Clark County 2019-2022 Homeless Action Plan

A Response to the Clark County 2019-2022 Homeless Action Plan 
Oral Statement made before the Clark County Council on April 2, 2019 by Denny Scott, Chair,  Faith Partners for Housing

My name is Denny Scott. I serve as chair of Faith Partners for Housing, an interfaith coalition with the mission to mobilize the broad faith community to contribute to long term solutions to homelessness and to expand the supply of affordable housing.

Congratulations to the County for putting together the 2019-2022 Clark County Homeless Action Plan. This will greatly enhance strategies and programs to move those who are homelessness into transition and then to permanent housing.  The report, however, cries out for a comprehensive “part two” that focuses on strategies that will add to the supply of affordable housing to, 1) provide a place for the homelessness individuals and families to go, and 2) to prevent others who are “rent burdened” from becoming homelessness.

That strategy is, unfortunately, limited by the shortage of affordable units available for rapid transitioning out of homelessness.

There is an affordable housing crisis in Clark County. Many underlying factors have contributed to this situation:

*During the 2007-2017 recession/depression overall construction of homes and apartments fell to extremely low levels.

*There is a continuing flow of population into the county.

*There has been a loss of affordable units (i.e. Courtyard Village).

*Over the last decade incomes have remained flat while rents have risen dramatically pricing many out of the housing/rental market.

The size of the affordable housing deficit in Clark County is not an easy number to determine. One expert in the nonprofit home construction industry indicated it could be as high as 10,000 units.  Another estimated the “shortage” to be between 3,000 and 6,000.  The point here is that the numbers are very large when considering that currently about 400 units are in the pipeline for completion in the next several years.

A 2017 Washington Department of Commerce report gives us a picture of the onerous effects that rising rents have had on homelessness. There had been eight straight years of improved homelessness numbers up to 2013.  But the spike in rents since that year has caused homelessness to rise every year since 2013.

There is a direct cause and effect connection between rent increases and homelessness. For every $100 increase in average rents studies show that homelessness rises anywhere from 6% to 32%.  There is a wide range because the impacts are variable depending on the “tightness” of the housing market.

We are often asked if rents will moderate and decline as more units are built and the supply catches up with the demand. A partial answer comes from a recent study completed for the four-county metro area, including Clark.  It found that during 2016 through 2017 rents actually fell by a small percentage for high end apartments and condos because developers are filling in the short supply for luxury or the “high middle” income brackets.  This is where the higher investment returns and margins can be generated.  Tis is not the case for apartments renting for less than $1,000 a month.  For these rents continued to move upwards.

Affordability, or “non-affordability”, cuts across single family neighborhoods, multifamily housing mixed use neighborhoods and even mobile home parks. It also impacts seniors, young adults forming families, established families with children, veterans, single women—–the entire spectrum of our community.

While the free market workings of the real estate market will correct the shortage of “high income” units, it is clear that the market, by itself, will not solve the short supply crisis for middle, lower-middle and low-income segments of our community. These segments need deliberate, intentional and targeted government intervention with incentives, subsidies and other creative collaborations to create an equitable and diverse community for everyone.

Faith Partners for Housing stands ready to work with the county on initiatives and programs aimed at ending the affordable housing crisis.

See full statement with citations: ClarkCoFP4HStatement4-2-19.