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In Our View: We Need Places to Live

Jun 19, 2018
In The News

According to the basics of supply and demand, it is clear that Clark County is suffering from a housing shortage. Home prices have surged, vacant apartments are almost non-existent, and local builders say there is not enough available land for housing construction.

“We as a region, we as a county are sort of in this very deep crisis in terms of where we’re at with housing affordability,” Jamie Howsley, government affairs director with the Building Industry Association of Clark County, recently told county councilors. Whether or not it is a crisis is open to interpretation, but the median home value in Clark County has increased 9.8 percent over the past year, according to Zillow. The real estate database predicts a slight decline in values over the next 12 months.

All of this is related to the basic economic theory of supply and demand. When demand increases at a faster rate than supply, prices increase; when supply outpaces demand, prices dip. And while you don’t have to be an economist to understand the issue, the question of what to do about it is a little more complex.

That is where Washington’s Growth Management Act comes into play. Adopted by the Legislature in 1990, the act allows local jurisdictions to adjust urban growth boundaries within guidelines defined by the state. The act has been essential in preventing sprawl that desecrates rural regions such as farmland and natural resource areas. Well-managed growth helps to preserve the character of Washington while, ideally, gradually expanding boundaries to make room for population increases.

The act calls for balanced growth, but Howsley claims that balance is out of whack. Clark County has room for the development of about 48,000 housing units, and when that number dips to 45,000, supply cannot keep up with demand and housing prices quickly escalate.

Not everybody agrees with that assessment. Tim Trohimovich of environmental group Futurewise told The Columbian: “Clark County’s studies show that there is more than enough land to meet future needs for housing and jobs. We encourage the county and cities to monitor the land supply and to adjust their plans and zoning as needed to encourage additional housing in cities in towns.”

We can appreciate that thinking, but from our view it is clear that something has to give. Demand fueled by population growth throughout Clark County is pricing too many people out of the market, contributing to a homelessness crisis and leading toward what could become a housing bubble that is destined to burst. Expanding the growth boundary in a thoughtful manner would help to ease pressure upon the system while maintaining the region’s high quality of life.

This is not unique to Clark County. A report by a coalition of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives estimates that 5 million housing units are needed throughout the country, lest a crisis ensue. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, co-authored the report and told The Olympian, “We simply cannot build enough units in this country.” That is a bit of an overstatement. Building new housing decreases the value of existing homes and the value of investments owners have made.

All of this calls for a balanced approach, with attention paid to environmental concerns, a desire to avoid sprawl, and recognition that overly rapid growth will have unwanted consequences. But the bottom line is that Clark County needs more room for housing to meet the demands of a growing population.