Redfin’s First Scholarship Winner Examines Gentrification in Vancouver, WA

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The Redfin Scholarship is a way for Redfin to help students on their journey through higher education. The scholarship application period occurs twice yearly with awards given to a student in both the spring and fall. Here is the student essay that won the 2017 spring scholarship. Congrats to Ethan Mayers, a senior at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington.

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Essay Prompt: When the population of a city grows, low-income people are often forced to move to more affordable areas outside of the city. Many initiatives have been proposed or implemented to keep affordable housing within city limits. Identify one such initiative and discuss its pros and cons.

The lack of affordable housing is crippling thousands of residents in my hometown Vancouver, Washington. Nearby Portland, Oregon continues to be an extremely popular relocation city. Large influxes of people are moving to areas throughout Southwest Washington, including Vancouver. Consequently, Portland ranks the most gentrified city in the United States. Since Vancouver is a suburb of Portland, Vancouver is experiencing gentrification, too. Recently, apartment owners evicted Vancouver tenants to renovate their complexes to cater to the new, higher-end market. Housing prices in Vancouver endured a 40-percent increase over the last five years. This demand pummeled Vancouver’s vacancy rate down to an alarming two percent. Ideally, the vacancy rate for a city of Vancouver’s size should hover around six to seven percent. Supply and demand applies: as vacancy rates plummet because of demand, rent prices increase as availability drops. Over 17,000 Vancouver families spend at least a third of their income on housing while almost 7,000 Vancouver families spend at least half of their income.

To learn more about Vancouver’s housing crisis, I interviewed Vancouver City Councilwoman Alishia Topper. She stated, “The scale has tipped so that the market condition doesn’t allow for affordable housing.” Some cities in the United States have placed limits on rent in an attempt to maintain affordable housing. However, this practice is illegal in Washington. To make matters more challenging, low-income households are the fastest growing population in Washington State. Therefore, a high percentage of renters are forced to budget large portions of their income for rent. Their ability to contribute to the local economy is significantly hampered due to reduced discretionary spending.

In November 2016, Vancouver citizens voted to pass Proposition 1 which will raise $6 million of tax revenue per year for the next seven years to fund affordable housing within the City of Vancouver. Only property-owning residents of Vancouver will be taxed. Seniors, Veterans and families living under the poverty line are the target beneficiaries of this Proposition. For example, the increase in housing expenses forced many seniors on fixed incomes, hardworking families and people with disabilities out of their homes. For them, Proposition 1 presents many pros. The specific tax revenue will build and preserve affordable housing for citizens making less than half of the community’s average income. Furthermore, the affordable housing created or preserved by Proposition 1 will also remain affordable for at least 20 years. This ensures that many Vancouver residents will have the chance to live a healthy and safe life in affordable homes.

However, Proposition 1 brings cons, too. The average Vancouver homeowner will see their taxes increase by $90 per year. This is troubling for families who live in homes while barely making ends meet. Moreover, this tax may discourage similar prospective homeowners from purchasing property. Unfortunately, $90 is only the average tax increase. Proposition 1 will disproportionately affect those who own rental properties while failing to tax renters. Opponents of Proposition 1 maintain that reducing regulations, changing Clark County’s zoning codes, providing property tax waivers, and lowering the fees for buildings would allow developers, investors and landlords to better provide for all types of housing. They also contend that Proposition 1 fails to address the root causes of poverty. Lastly, Proposition 1 hopes to assist only 2,300 families over a seven-year span (330 per year) which many argue will fail to make a significant impact in a city with a population 165,554. Regardless of personal stance creating affordable housing opportunities in Vancouver affordable is crucial.

While Proposition 1 will accomplish its goal of assisting families in need, homeowners will experience further taxation which may potentially alarm buyers and hurt realtors.

Student Biography

Scholarship winner Ethan Mayers

Ethan Mayers is a senior at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington. He is actively involved in ASB and athletics and has raised over $9,000 for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital as part of the annual Mr. Hudson’s Bay Pageant. Between cross country, swimming, and track he is en route to becoming a 12 season letterman. Ethan also enjoys playing the piano and performing at recitals. Next year, Ethan will attend the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. Along with a degree in Business Administration, he looks forward to earning a degree in Mathematics.

The fall application period is from May 1-July31. Click here for more information.

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