Gov. Jay Inslee lauded Vancouver for its affordable housing plan, recognizing the city with one of 13 Smart Communities Awards in a declaration last week.
“Creativity, collaboration and public engagement are key to ensuring that communities are successful in meeting future growth and prosperity goals,” Inslee said in a media release. “This year’s award-winning plans and projects exemplify some of the reasons why Washington is consistently ranked one of the best states in America.”
Vancouver won the Smart Choices Award for its housing strategy, which encompasses an unusual recipe of renter protections, zoning code changes, development incentives and direct public funding for affordable housing.
In the media release, one of the award judges called Vancouver’s strategy a “toolkit for other communities to use.”
How it began
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said Tuesday that the city’s current housing strategy started in the winter of 2014, when a Rose Village neighborhood developer unexpectedly evicted hundreds of tenants from their homes in the Courtyard Village Apartments Complex with 20 days’ notice.
“It shocked our entire community. It just took everything out of us. We had no idea what this meant,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “People were scrambling, because we didn’t have enough housing. The city realized we needed to step in.”
Under the leadership of then-Mayor Tim Leavitt, Vancouver formed its Affordable Housing Task Force, which revised city ordinances to formalize stronger tenant protections.
“Then came the opportunity to start this Affordable Housing Fund,” McEnerny-Ogle said, referring to a seven-year program that set aside $6 million per year in public funds for low-income housing development and preservation. The fund indicated a shift — the city was taking ownership of what was once considered exclusively a county issue.
“No other cities were doing that in Washington,” she said. “We certainly know we’re not done with this process. We certainly know we have a long way to go, but we’ll take every bit of help we can get and suggestions on how we can build on it.”
Now in its 14th year, the Smart Communities Awards recognize cities and counties in Washington that have demonstrated some novel and effective approach to housing, infrastructure or urban planning.
Other 2019 winners are Prosser, Lakewood, Island County (twice), Blaine, Thurston County, Bellingham, Walla Walla, Colville, Tukwila, Tacoma and Bonney Lake.
This year is the first that Inslee has recognized Vancouver in his Smart Communities Awards, though in the past other Clark County communities have won.
In 2013, Clark County, Ridgefield and Battle Ground earned the award for their Clean Water Alliance. Ridgefield has twice received an honorable mention, once for its comprehensive growth management plan in 2016 and again for the city’s mixed-use overlay and commercial design standards in 2017. The Port of Camas-Washougal also received a nod from the governor in 2015 for its waterfront and trail development.