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Vancouver sees five-fold increase in permits for residential construction

In September 2018, Vancouver issued 10 permits for single-family residence or duplex home construction projects, at a total valuation of $962,226.

In September 2019, the city issued 53 permits in the same category, and the total valuation rose to $11.4 million.

The Columbian routinely publishes permit data in a small info box called Clark County Trends. But this particular case — a year-over-year change that saw a five-fold increase in permit numbers and a more than tenfold increase in total valuation — called for some additional context.

It turns out there are a few different factors in play. The first is the most straightforward: valuations have gone up because the city recently updated the number set that it uses to calculate the value of construction projects.

Permit fees are calculated based on the typical value of various types of construction, according to Vancouver Economic Development Director Chad Eiken, and the city had been using the same table of typical values since 1986.

“We have consistently had among the lowest building permit fees in the Portland Metro region for a number of years,” Eiken wrote in an email, “but after 30 years, it was time to update the valuation table as our costs to deliver responsive and high quality service continue to increase.”

Construction costs have increased substantially in the past 30 years, Eiken said, so this past summer, the city decided to switch to a newer valuation table from 2017. The result was higher valuations for the same kinds of projects.

“We didn’t go in and change the cost per square foot, but it sort of has that effect,” he said.

The change can also be seen in the total valuation for permits issued this year. In 2017, the city issued 177 single-family permits with a total valuation of $19.2 million. In 2018, it issued 316 single-family permits at a total valuation of $33.5 million. There have been 232 single-family permits issued in 2019 through the end of September, but the total valuation has risen to $50.5 million.

September 2018 was a relative low point in terms of the number of single-family permits issued in a given month, but the median since January 2017 has been 20 permits per month, so last month’s 53 was still a major spike.

The majority of those projects came from a single developer: Vancouver-based Ginn Development. Ginn has been working on a major residential development near 112th Avenue and 18th Street called Four Seasons, which includes several satellite projects.

A total of 29 permits were issued for lots in the area last month — 11 for Four Seasons, 11 for the satellite Four Seasons Crossing and seven for the satellite Four Seasons Landing. Another eight permits were issued for lots at the Village at Evergreen Landing, another Ginn project.

September’s high permit total was partially the result of that unique alignment at Four Seasons, but Ginn Development owner Patrick Ginn said there are likely to be similar months in the near future, driven by high demand for affordable single-family homes in Vancouver and Clark County.

“I think it’s going to be the new normal for the area,” he said. “It’s a need that’s been building up for the last couple years.”

Eiken said he also began to see the change a few years ago. It started with an increase in the number of new lots created in Vancouver, he said, after developers began to run out of existing buildable lots.

The result was an uptick in subdivisions, and a rise in interest in lots that might have been passed over in the initial round of development.

“Five years ago, we had almost no subdivision or short plat (applications),” he said.

In 2016, there were 209 new residential lots proposed. In 2017 that number rose to 365, and then to 535 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been 285 proposed.

It takes a couple of years for those applications to work their way through the process and get to the building permit stage, Eiken said, so the surge in new lot creation could be contributing to the current uptick in new residential permits.


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