Commerce awards $75,000 to address housing affordability in three rural communities

  • May 4, 2020

Othello, Stevenson and Cowlitz County will use grant funds to develop housing action plans and adopt municipal code changes to make it easier for rural residents to find housing they can afford. 

 OLYMPIA, WA — The Washington State Department of Commerce has awarded growth management grants of $25,000 each to Othello, Stevenson and Cowlitz County to help the communities address housing affordability.

“These grants support and strengthen communities in their efforts to address the statewide affordable housing shortage,” Commerce Director Lisa Brown said. “Washington’s rural communities are not immune from the high cost of housing and low vacancy rates that challenge metropolitan areas, yet they have far fewer resources and staff to respond to the housing crisis.”

Brown noted that many rural communities now have rental vacancy rates well below the 7-8% considered healthy for the economy. Additionally, rapidly rising rents in urban centers are driving waves of middle and low-wage workers farther out, creating new bedroom communities in neighboring small towns.

Local leaders are working to identify and implement actions to increase the amount and types of housing available for all incomes, but particularly for lower income segments.  Housing policy plans and municipal code changes will address the following issues:

  • In Othello, rental vacancy rates are less than 1%, and residential land is selling for more than industrial land.
  • In Stevenson, rapid increases in average home prices (26% in Skamania County between 2018 and 2019) and a high percentage of part-time seasonal residents (1 in 5 dwellings) have put intense cost pressure on the housing stock.
  • Cowlitz County is serving as an affordable bedroom community for pricier centers such as Olympia and Portland, and even with living wage jobs in the county, competition for available housing is high.

Commerce developed this assistance program for rural communities that were not eligible for a larger program created by the Washington State Legislature last year, but need to address significant housing challenges.   For more information about how Commerce is supporting communities throughout the state facing housing affordability issues, visit the Growth Management Services website.

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Media contact: Penny Thomas, Commerce Communications, (206) 256-6106

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