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Vancouver Housing Authority to urge state to redefine affordable housing

Vancouver Housing Authority looks to change the state’s definition of affordable housing. Currently under state law affordable rental housing means costs (including utilities) do not exceed 30 percent of a household’s monthly income.

This definition, however, doesn’t jibe with how much the housing authority asks its Section 8 subsidized rent tenants to contribute toward housing costs and that could be problematic, the housing authority said.

Last year, renters who use Section 8, otherwise known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, began putting a larger portion of their monthly income toward rent. It went from 33 to 35 percent, having gone from 30 to 33 percent in 2014. As one of 39 Move to Work authorities, Vancouver Housing Authority can deviate from some federal rules. This deviation was intended to stretch the Section 8 budget, which has been strained by rising rents. While tenants put 35 percent of their monthly income toward renting an apartment of their choosing, the voucher covers the remaining cost as set by specific payment standards.

Vancouver Housing Authority’s board of commissioners on Thursday approved a legislative agenda that includes pushing for the definition of affordable housing to be rewritten. Deputy Director Saeed Hajarizadeh acknowledged during the meeting that trying to change the state’s definition of affordable housing could be controversial because some groups are attached to the 30 percent standard.

“We think it’s more of an administrative fix,” he told the board.

The change could impact properties tied to Vancouver’s property tax exemption program, which came under scrutiny Monday over what it considers “affordable.”

In the program, developers receive eight-year, 10-year or 12-year tax exemptions if at least 20 percent of units are affordable to households earning up to 100, 80 or 60 percent of the area’s median family income, respectively. Since state and federal law defines “affordable” as 30 percent of monthly income, a low-income household using a VHA Section 8 voucher and paying 35 percent of their income could not be counted as one of these affordable unit tenants.

Regardless of what Vancouver Housing Authority asks of its Section 8 tenants, many tenants statewide already pay more than 30 percent if they live in a unit costlier than the payment standards, Hajarizadeh said. A Section 8 renter may choose to live in a nicer or bigger unit, but they must pay the difference.

“It’s a Housing Choice Voucher, so they get to go where they want,” Hajarizadeh said.

Reworking the definition of affordable housing is among a list of things the housing authority would like to advocate for during January’s short legislative session. While the agency typically follows the Association of Washington Housing Authorities priorities, it occasionally advocates its own stance on specific state law.

Vancouver Housing Authority’s actions add to a growing local discussion around what defines housing affordability.


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