The city of Camas is nearing the end of its yearlong Housing Action Plan.
Funded by a $100,000 Washington State Department of Commerce grant, the plan will highlight the specific “housing gaps” that keep prospective Camas homeowners and renters out of the city, and determine which policies the city might want to implement to ensure Camas has more affordable, diverse housing in the future.
Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox and consultant Melissa Mailloux, of Mosaic Community Planning, updated the Camas Planning Commission on the plan’s public engagement, existing housing conditions and the city’s housing needs at a remote commission meeting on Feb. 17, and said the city will soon begin its second phase of public engagement.
“We will have community meetings in March and be back no sooner than April (to) the planning commission,” Fox told the commissioners, adding that the state Commerce grant stipulates that the city council must approve a final plan by June.
City leaders hope the action plan will help Camas meet some of the housing goals laid out in the city’s 2035 comprehensive plan by increasing the types of housing available in Camas and offering more affordable housing so that people from all income levels might be able to Camas’ quality schools, historic downtown and abundance of parks and green spaces.
Fox and Mailloux presented the Planning Commission with an 88-page draft of the action plan on Feb. 17.
Included in the draft is public comment from Camas residents who took part in two remote open houses held in September 2020, key stakeholders — urban planners, government officials, educators, nine local high school students, and professionals working in the housing and homeless services fields — and 307 responses from an online survey available online from mid-August to November 2020.
Some of the key findings from the Housing Action Plan draft presented to the planning commissioners on Feb. 17:
City is in need of more diverse types of housing: Asked to identify the types of housing most needed in Camas, key stakeholders and members of the public pointed to starter homes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), accessible housing — particularly for older residents — apartments and condominiums and senior housing.
“Participants want housing that reflects a variety of stages of life, including housing for college students and single adults,” the draft action plan states. “They express a desire for entry level homes, ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet or sold for less than $200,000. Stakeholders also want housing that enables seniors to age in place. There is some interest in higher density or ‘vertical’ housing, such as apartments or condos, particularly in downtown.”
Camas housing costs are higher than surrounding areas: The plan’s creators have found limited housing options for low-income residents.
Mailloux told commissioners on Feb. 17, that the majority of houses built in Camas over the past decade have been larger, single-family homes.
“Most of the housing approved is 3,000 square feet or more,” she said. “The large majority is over 2,000 square feet.”
The trends from 2010 to 2020 also show Camas homes are becoming bigger and more expensive, Mailloux added.
“Even the bottom price points are well above what you would think of as a “starter home,” she said.
The draft plan shows that Clark County in general “offers limited affordability for first-time homebuyers” but says the problem is even worse in Camas.
“These pressures may be extreme for first-time homebuyers in Camas, who already face challenges due to the city’s limited supply of smaller starter homes,” the plan states, showing that the median home value in Camas in 2018 was $403,800 compared to $296,800 in Clark County and $342,900 in the metropolitan area surrounding Vancouver, Portland and Hillsboro.
The area median income (AMI) is $74,700, and the housing plan points out that even people earning 100 to 120 percent of the AMI still might find owning a home in Camas cost-prohibitive.
“(The) data shows that lower income households are heavily impacted by a lack of affordability (in Camas),” the plan states. “Of those with incomes under 30 percent of the area median income, four out of five face difficulty finding suitable housing, including 90 percent of homeowners.”
“Affordability difficulties persist for the next two income levels (31 to 50 percent AMI and 51 to 80 percent AMI) as well, where more than one-half of households spend over 30 percent of (their) income on housing,” the plan states. “At moderate and middle incomes (81 to 100 percent AMI and 101 to 120 percent AMI), housing needs are reduced for renters but remain high for homeowners.”
In Camas, more expensive single-family houses far outnumber multi-family homes: According to Fox and Mailloux, multi-family housing, which is often more affordable, accounts for only about 4.6 percent of Camas’ housing stock.
“So it’s a pretty small share,” Mailloux told planning commissioners in February, adding that multi-family housing might make the most sense for one of the “housing gaps” often identified in surveys with Camas residents and stakeholders — that of adult children who want to live in their hometown after college or high school, but find they cannot afford Camas’ housing costs.
Of the more than 300 people who completed the city’s online housing survey between August and November 2020, the majority agreed (97 strongly agreed and 52 somewhat agreed) that a lack of affordable housing is a serious issue in Camas.
Asked what types of assistance might be helpful to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, 126 respondents said “more affordable for-sale units,” 103 said “down payment assistance” and 100 said “more affordable rental units.”
Non-white households have higher housing needs in Camas: The report shows that, the needs for more diverse and affordable housing in Camas is uneven when viewed through a racial equity lens.
According to the draft plan presented to planning commissioners in February: “Housing need data indicates that, particularly related to homeownership, racial and ethnic minorities, specifically Hispanics or Latinos and Native Americans or Alaska Natives, are more likely to spend more of their income to live in Camas than do white households.”
The plan shows that, while about one-fifth of white homeowners in Camas have a housing need, “90 percent of Native American or Alaska Native homeowners have a housing need, as do 41.4 percent of Hispanic or Latino homeowners and 36 percent of other or multiple race homeowners.”
On the rental side, the plan states that “only one group (Asian or Pacific Islanders) is more likely to face difficulty affording a place to rent” in Camas.
The draft action plan also notes that, “while white residents comprise 82.1 percent of the city’s population, they make up a lower percentage of the city’s population growth from 2010 to 2018, about 64.3 percent.”
Between 2010 and 2018, Asian residents accounted for 11.6 percent of Camas’ population increases, while Hispanic or Latino residents made up 8.7 percent of the population growth and Native American residents accounted for 2 percent of the growth.
At the same time, Camas saw decreases in the number of Black, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander residents.
The plan notes that only “a small number of Black households” were included in the data, and that, of the 60 Black households included, none showed an increased housing need.
“Prohibitively high housing costs are often more likely to impact households of color … elevated costs in Camas may impact the city’s racial and ethnic composition,” the plan states.
Majority of housing survey respondents live in Camas, are white and earn more than $100,000 a year: According to the staff report presented to the planning commission in February, 95 percent of the people participating in the online survey lived in Camas and 36 percent work in Camas.
Most of the respondents said they own their own home (88 percent), while some were renting (9 percent) or living with family or friends (3 percent).
More than half of those participating in the survey (69 percent) had incomes over $100,000, with 40 percent earning more than $150,000 a year.
A majority of respondents identified as white (75 percent), while 5 percent identified as Hispanic, 5 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2 percent as Native American, 1 percent as Black, 1 percent as Arab or Middle Eastern and 12 percent selected “other” or chose to not respond to the racial and ethnic makeup question.
Participants tended to live throughout the city, with the greatest number (59 people) living on or near Northeast Everett Street.
Many Camas residents are “cost burdened” by housing: The draft plan shows many Camas residents, homeowners and renters alike, are burdened by the city’s high housing costs.
“Of the four types of housing problems (cost burden, overcrowding, lack of complete kitchen facilities and lack of complete plumbing facilities) … cost burden affect far more households than any of the others,” the plan states. “Over 40 percent of Camas renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing expenses, while about 14 percent spend more than 50 percent of their household income on these expenses.”
Homeowners also are impacted by the city’s housing costs. The plan notes that one in five Camas homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and a little more than 6 percent spend more than half their income on housing costs.
“Overall, this data indicates that affordability is the key housing need for many in Camas, impacting nearly 2,000 households (1,135 owners and 785 renters),” the plan states.
Planning Commission debates affordable housing ‘tools’
Fox and Mailloux told planning commissioners on Feb. 17, that the city has tools available to help ensure Camas will have more diverse and affordable housing over the next 10 years and beyond.
“There are some strategies. It’s not a lost cause,” Fox told the commissioners. “Some strategies are in our (comprehensive) plan now, we just haven’t mandated them.”
For example, Fox noted, while the city’s comprehensive plan encourages ADU development in new subdivisions, the city does not require it. Similarly, though the city encourages multi-family housing developers to take advantage of tax rebates available to builders that include a certain percentage of affordable housing in their development, the program is voluntary and not mandatory.
Mailloux told commissioners in February that research has shown planning tools like inclusionary zoning — including a certain percentage of affordable housing in a new development — are more effective when they are compulsory.
“There are cities throughout the country that have included inclusionary zoning (and they) are more successful when they’re mandatory, so developers have to comply … versus voluntary programs with the option of having an inclusionary component.”
Mailloux added that inclusionary zoning also works well in areas like Camas, where developers are keen to build.
“This type of (planning tool) works particularly well in areas where there is development pressure, in attractive areas to build, and where developers will want to develop even with an inclusionary requirement,” Mailloux said.
Several planning commissioners seemed to balk at the idea of mandating planning tools in Camas.
Commissioner Mahsa Eshghi said she thought tools like inclusionary zoning should be voluntary for builders, but added that she would like to see more examples of areas where inclusionary zoning was mandatory versus voluntary to see how it has worked in other cities.
Commissioner Troy Hull agreed and said he believed voluntary “would be better received” in Camas, and Commissioner Geoerl Niles said he would like to see more data on how the mandatory inclusionary zoning works.
Niles said he would think that “if you force it” builders would approach affordable units or homes as “an afterthought.” If a city educated builders, Niles said, and developers wanted to create more affordable units to take advantage of tax rebates, perhaps builders would “put some thought into it.”
Fox said city staff could bring more examples of voluntary versus mandatory inclusionary zoning to the planning commissioners, but added that Camas “actually has a lot of these (voluntary tools) in our code right now … (but has not) seen any takers.”
For example, Fox noted, while the city’s code encourages builders to build a mix of housing types in new developments — including single-level homes better for older residents who want to “age in place” and more affordable ADUs — developers typically have a housing type in mind and aren’t usually willing to change their plans if they don’t have to, Fox said.
“Typically, a developer comes in with a housing type they’ve been building … that they’re very comfortable with … so the idea of mixing in another new design is probably not a top priority for them,” Fox said.
Eshgi and Niles said they would rather see an educational component added to the city’s interactions with developers rather than move to a mandatory requirement, perhaps sitting down with builders during the pre-application conference to explain the city’s voluntary programs that offer tax incentives to builders who create more diverse and affordable housing.
Fox said Camas has not yet found success with these voluntary programs.
“We have four or five (tools) in our plan that encourage (more diverse and affordable housing … but we’re not seeing developers saying, ‘OK, I will also include this other idea that you as a community want,'” Fox said. “It’s not required, so it’s just not attractive to them to want to include it in their plan. They have a vision of what they want a subdivision to look like, and that vision doesn’t include inclusionary (zoning).”
Public will have more opportunities to weigh in
Camas residents and others interested in the city’s housing action plan can keep up with the latest data and drafts online at LetsTalkHousingCamas.us.
The city will reach out to members of the public again this month and will likely come back to the Planning Commission again in April to discuss the draft action plan and discuss policies the city could employ to help Camas have more affordable and more diverse housing.
The plan will then move to the city council level for more public discussion and debate.
Fox said the city council must adopt the city’s final housing action plan by June.
To read a draft report of Camas’ existing housing conditions and housing needs, visit bit.ly/3bRZiQp.
To view the results of the city’s September 2020 meetings with the public and stakeholders, visit letstalkcamashousing.us/community-meetings.
To watch the Feb. 17 Planning Commission meeting, visit camas-wa.municodemeetings.com/bc-pc/page/planning-commission-meeting-59.
A draft of the Camas Housing Action Plan is available for public review and comments at letstalkcamashousing.us.
Additionally, the city will host a virtual community workshop to discuss the draft plan at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 18. To join the meeting via Zoom visit us02web.zoom.us/j/82542436599. Or call in for an audio-only meeting at 253-215-8782 and use the meeting identification number: 825-4243-6599.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on March 8, 2021, to include information about the city’s virtual community meeting planned for March 18.