Findings of county housing study revealed

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Studies done on behalf of Clark County to come up with a better housing plan show land around the outskirts of Vancouver isn’t set up to house most of its population.

On May 11, consultants involved with the county’s Housing Options Study and Action Plan spoke remotely about what they had found. Among the findings is the disconnect between what housing is available and what residents need.

Through outreach conducted among stakeholders in Vancouver’s Urban Growth Area, a designation laid out in state law that governs where new development can occur outside a city’s borders, consultants found that recent construction of predominately single-family homes does not reflect local needs. 

The outreach also concluded that zoning designations in the area are fairly restrictive, not allowing high-density development along key transportation corridors or near commercial areas.

Land availability is a major challenge for residential development in the area, which is located largely north of the city around the Interstate 5 and 205 corridors. The surveys indicated a disconnect between infrastructure investment and where housing is anticipated to develop.

The county will need to plan for more than 13,000 new housing units by 2035, 42 percent of which will be below the area median income, Steve Faust, community planning director with 3J Consulting, explained. He said the majority of the outreach was done in April and July 2020, with a project advisory group involving stakeholders approved in the fall. 

Faust presented information that indicated the disconnect between how the growth area has been operating and what it needs.

Faust said 76 percent of housing stock in the growth boundary is single-family detached housing on lots larger than 5,000 square feet. He added more than 66,000 people leave the UGA for work and 84 percent commute by car.

A graph Faust presented shows median home sale prices doubled between 2011 and 2019, and rental rates for multifamily units increased from about $750 to roughly $1,300 for a two-bedroom apartment. From 2012 to 2019, wages in the area increased by about 12 percent, while rent costs increased 23 percent and housing prices per square foot increased 95 percent.

Faust’s presentation noted more than half of households in the UGA make less than 120 percent of the area median income, with 44 percent of renters burdened by cost. Nearly 60 percent of households are one to two people, while 70 percent of the housing stock is three to four-bedroom units.

Elizabeth Decker with JET Planning noted the county adopted a 50-year vision in 1993 stating no single housing type would exceed 75 percent of new dwelling units. Of the three different designations within the county’s comprehensive growth management plan, 89 percent was zoned low-density, with high-density only accounting for 3 percent.

Decker said there is limited land supply in medium-density zones, with a “missing middle” of housing opportunities in low and middle-density zones. She added high-density zoning is “extremely” limited, compounded with site demands such as parking and recreation space.

Faust said housing is more expensive and entry-level homes continue to move out of reach, with demand outpacing supply. The proliferation of single-family housing in the study area has complicated the issue.

The project formed an advisory group representing a broad range of interests, including individuals vulnerable to rising housing costs and displacement, housing industry representatives, advocates for older adults, neighborhood and school representatives. Along with its own meetings, the group will periodically meet with the Clark County Council and the county’s planning commission.

Jacqui Kamp, with the Clark County Community Planning Department, said there would be additional public participation when the plan moves toward a legislative decision.

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