Our Camas 2045: City leaders mull new population, housing projections

City must plan for 7,700 new residents, allow for more diverse housing types over next 20 years

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A home under construction at Dawson's Ridge in Camas is included in the 2019 NW Natural Parade of Homes, which featured new homes with sale prices starting at $1.5 million. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

As Camas staff and officials dive into a multi-year “Our Camas 2045” update of the City’s comprehensive plan and begin to formulate policies and goals that will shape the future of Camas over the next two decades, City officials are mulling the impacts of a 2021 state bill meant to increase affordable housing throughout Washington.

“House Bill 1220, adopted by the Washington State Legislature in 2021, requires cities to plan for and accommodate housing affordable to all income levels,” Camas Community Development Director Alan Peters told city officials Monday, March 18, during a Camas City Council workshop. “This is a significant change to how cities must plan for housing and requires that cities plan for sufficient capacity for all housing needs, including moderate, low, very low and extremely low income, as well as emergency housing and permanent supportive housing.”

“We need 1.1 million housing units statewide over the next 20 years,” Peters said Monday. “The Clark County Council has already adopted a 2045 population target of 718,154 … a population increase of 190,754 over the Clark County population as of 2023. Clark County has projected that 95 percent of (this) new growth will occur in cities and urban growth areas.”

For Camas, which has a little over 4% of the existing vacant, buildable residential land capacity in Clark County, the population projections show Camas will need to accommodate around 7,729 more people over the next two decades, increasing the City’s population to 37,080 by 2045. Washougal’s population is expected to increase by 6,848 people to a total of 24,874 over the next 20 years.

With those population increases comes a need for more housing — and, due to Housing Bill 1220 — for more diverse housing that would help ensure middle- and lower-income residents could find housing in cities like Camas and Washougal.

“The projected total future housing need for the entire county in 2045 is 309,711 units,” Peters told Camas officials Monday. “Camas’ proposed residential unit allocation through 2045 is 4,226 units.”

And while the state used to only require cities to plan for those total housing unit allocations, Housing Bill 1220 changed the game, Peters said. Now, cities like Camas, which have an abundance of larger, more expensive, single-family housing, will need to plan for more diverse housing types that could meet the needs of middle- and lower-income buyers and renters.

At issue is how Clark County will go about allocating these housing types for each of its cities. Peters said the county is currently looking at two possible scenarios — Method A and Method B — for allocating these housing types within Clark County cities.

Method A, Peters said, “accommodates all housing needs through new housing production” and spreads those percentages evenly amongst Clark County cities, while Method B would “require that each jurisdiction plan for the same percentage share of their total housing supply at each income level and mean that jurisdictions with less affordable housing currently will be allocated a greater share of affordable housing needs over the next 20 years.”

Peters sent a letter to the county’s planning commissioners advocating for Method A, which would give Clark County cities the same percentage of housing unit allocations, over Method B, which would require Camas to plan for a much greater share of housing suitable for residents earning between zero and 50% of the area median income (AMI) bands and “result in a negative allocation” of housing meant for higher income residents earning 120% or more of the area’s median income.

“Method A still requires a healthy amount of multi-family (housing),” Peters said. “We do have some and we do need to catch up. It’s just a matter of how much we need to catch up.”

Peters said the county’s planning staff have presented the two options to the Clark County Planning Commission, which will hold a continued public hearing on the matter at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21.

“They’re not giving a clear recommendation, but are leaning toward Method B,” Peters told Camas City Council members this week. “Our staff has advocated for Method A. We believe that, if the interest is in providing more affordable housing, that (method) is an easier lift.”

Other Clark County cities that have already planned for more affordable and multi-family housing will likely advocate for Method B, Peters said, adding that “something between A and B might work out.”

According to the state of Washington, the area median income (AMI) in Clark County as of Jan. 1, 2024, is $63,252 per year for an individual and $121,632 for a family of four, meaning that those earning 80% AMI would be earning around $24 an hour for a full-time job — or one and a half times more per hour than the current minimum wage. A full-time employee working at the minimum hourly wage would earn $33,862 a year, or 53% AMI.

Under Method A, Camas would need to gear 55% of its new housing unit allocations (2,316 units) to people earning less than 80% AMI; 20% (842 units) to those earning between 80% and 120% AMI and 25% (1,068 units) to those earning over 120% AMI.

“Under Method A, about 55 percent of our growth moving forward would have to be multi-family units over the next 20 years,” Peters told the city council members this week.

Under Method B, Camas would need to allocate 648 units for non-permanent supportive housing and 372 units for permanent supportive housing to meet the needs of its lower-income earners; 1,068 units for those earning between 30% and 50% of the area median income (AMI); 1,680 units for those earning between 50% and 80% AMI; 1,052 units for those earning between 80% and 100% AMI; and would result in negative housing unit allocations for those earning over 100% AMI.

“We already have more single-family dwellings than we need for higher incomes, so we would have negative (allocations for those housing unit allocations under Method B),” Peters said. “That said, the requirement is to plan for (these housing types). We’d just have to zone for these units to achieve those unit counts in our zoning. It doesn’t mean we have to say ‘no’ to people who choose to build (single-family) houses. It just means we have to have room in our city to accommodate those (more affordable) housing units.”

Peters said the city of Camas’ zoning will look different going forward, no matter which method the county settles on.

“This is denser development than we’re used to,” Peters told Council members Monday. “Our zoning will look different. We will create more land that allows for multi-family (housing) or maybe more land that allows for (a variety of) building types.”

At least one Camas City Council member took issue with the plan to create more diverse and more affordable housing.

“In our community, we’re looking for single-family units,” Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu, who also acts as the director of the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce, said Monday. “(People) would like to see Camas have more single-family units — that’s what I’ve heard.”

Peters reminded Senescu that the state is requiring counties and cities to diversify housing and plan for more housing units that are affordable for a wide variety of incomes.

“There is no situation where we can stay just single-family (housing),” Peters said. “The need is real and the need to provide housing is real.”

Senescu argued that “multi-family housing in Camas is not optimal for where the City wants to go.”

“Why can’t the onus for multi-family housing be in Vancouver, the most populated city?” Senescu asked.

Peters said Vancouver also will need to plan for its share of diverse and more affordable housing units throughout the next 20 years.

“We’re all taking the same share of new growth,” Peters said of Clark County’s cities. “Vancouve has a huge allocation one way or another.”

Councilman Tim Hein said he doesn’t like either method under consideration by the county.

“Not every city in Washington (should) look the same in 20 years,” Hein said. “ I like municipal control. That’s part of maintaining Camas’ look and feel”

Hein asked Peters if the City’s 2021 Housing Action Plan, which calls for more diverse and affordable housing types throughout Camas, would align with either of the methods.

“(Method) A is probably closer, but the Housing Action Plan and our comprehensive plan both acknowledge we are behind with that diversification of housing types,” Peters said, adding that even multi-family housing in Camas tends to be geared more toward higher-income earners.

“If you look at our affordable housing stock, it is probably mostly in older single-family housing,” Peters said. “The recent apartment complexes and townhomes are drawing a premium. But I think all housing contributes to the affordability challenge. If the numbers (for the City’s housing allocations over the next two decades) are surprising, I think it’s because we can now actually see what the housing needs are in Clark County and in our community.”

Peters also shared employment growth data with the Council this week, and said the county is expected to plan for 88,0000 new jobs countywide by 2045 — 11,363 of which would be allocated to Camas, which would need to plan for land that could accommodate those new employers.

“That’s a lot of jobs, and if we could achieve that, it would be phenomenal,” Peters said. “The number is based on available land capacity. At this point … we are not looking to change that number by asking for more or less. We have land for that on paper, so that’s where we’re headed.”