Housing affordability crucial to keeping ‘small-town feel’

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

As the city of Camas plans for growth and development coming to the city over the next two decades, many community members have questioned how Camas might retain its small-town charm, increase housing affordability and protect its natural beauty, parks and open spaces. 

Residents who participated in in-person and online community visioning events as part of the City’s “Our Camas 2045” long-range planning said they wanted city officials to maintain Camas’ “small-town community feel,” keep the downtown as the center of the community; support more community events; maintain quality schools; have access to nature and recreational amenities; improve water quality in the city’s lakes; preserve Camas’ natural beauty and green spaces; enhance the city’s trails and parks; plan for better infrastructure, including more non-motorized transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian-only areas and safer road crossings; support infrastructure investments downtown to make room for more diverse businesses, restaurants, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and more parking; and support for more downtown housing options. 

Meanwhile, the county has allocated population and employment targets for each city to plan for in the coming two decades. Camas, for instance, will need to accommodate more than 4,400 new residents and plan for thousands of new housing units that might be affordable for residents earning less than 120% median income. 

City planners have pointed out that simply zoning for more multi-family housing, which traditionally is more affordable, does not guarantee that developers will want to build those types of units. In fact, many of the multi-family developments that have popped up in downtown Camas, on the Camas-Washougal waterfront and in Vancouver and Portland often rent for market rates that are cost-prohibitive to many middle- and lower-income earners. 

Local officials have an obligation to embrace a more diverse community, including a diversity of income levels. Otherwise, Camas, like so many popular-but-pricey communities before it, runs the risk of becoming yet another high-end bedroom community lacking the vibrancy of a city that not only accommodates corporate executives, doctors and lawyers but also teachers, restaurant staff, artists, retail workers, nonprofit staff, social workers and others who provide valuable community services while earning wages that often fall below the definition of a “livable wage” in areas like Camas. 

The city is currently undergoing a massive update to its comprehensive plan, and Camasonians have a real chance to get involved with how Camas will grow and develop over the next 20 years. 

The state’s Democratically controlled legislature has passed laws over the past few years that are intended to increase housing affordability throughout Washington — stipulating that cities increase the types of housing types available to renters and buyers by requiring that all housing zones include the ability to site non-single-family home housing types, including duplexes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

This increase in housing types should eventually — if developers are keen to build them — help create more affordable housing throughout Washington and even in places like Camas, where the median home price in May 2024, according to, was around $931,000.

Solving Camas’ housing affordability issue, however, will not happen overnight. As the Urban Institute pointed out in April, one-third of Americans say the high cost of housing prevents them from living close to their place of employment, and “tens of millions of families in the United States are paying more than a third of their incomes for their dwelling costs, (which is) the largest number of rent-burdened families in more than a decade.” 

The solution isn’t any one policy, the Urban Institute says, but rather a combination of more housing and public subsidies for lower-income renters. 

Local government officials also should look at what the short-term rental market — often owned by private equity firms as opposed to individual homeowners — is doing to drive down the number of available rentals or affordable homes in areas like Camas that are not only popular places to live but also popular places to visit. A quick check of Airbnb shows there are around 60 short-term rentals in Camas available for a weekend in the next few months, including 10 sites in or near downtown Camas that rent for between $100 and $257 a night and a 3-bedroom Prune Hill home that bills itself as a “fully renovated modern farmhouse on 1 acre” that rents for $475 a night. Dozens of towns and cities in the U.S. have started to restrict these types of short-term rentals and some research suggests doing so can help drive down rental rates and increase housing affordability. 

As the city of Camas continues its long-range planning this year, the community’s desire to retain Camas’ small-town feel will hinge on the city’s ability to grow sustainably while accommodating a diverse range of new residents. 

For readers interested in these housing affordability issues — and in other topics related to Camas’ growth and development over the next two decades — the City will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on its “Our Camas 2045” and “Our Downtown Camas 2045” planning projects. For more information, visit