The Chronicle - Centralia

Local Officials Push Back on Unpopular Proposal for a New Airport in Thurston County

Thurston County officials said they oppose a state proposal to create a new two-runway airport at a rural site southeast of Olympia.

The potential airport would be within a circular area that spans six miles in diameter northeast of Tenino. A state commission tasked with identifying a site for a new airport decided to keep the so-called "Thurston County Central" site on a short list of options on Sept. 23, prompting renewed alarm by county officials.

County Commissioner Carolina Mejia said the board she chairs has consistently pushed back against any plans to build a new airport in Thurston County.

"The board, usually, they don't agree on everything, but this is definitely something that there's unanimous (opposition) for," Mejia said. "I think we're just all very understanding of the potential impacts."

The state legislature tasked the Commercial Aviation Coordination Commission in 2019 with identifying a suitable location for a new airport to be constructed by 2040. This airport would help meet demand as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport reaches its capacity.

The commission only recently narrowed its list of options to three "greenfield" or undeveloped sites, two in Pierce County and one in Thurston County.

County Manager Ramiro Chavez said he sent an email to the chair of the state commission July 2020, saying the board refused to sponsor any such development in Thurston County.

Despite this early contact, the state commission continued to consider sites in Thurston County. In response, Chavez said the board sent formal letters to the commission reaffirming its opposition in January and August.

The county has not received a response to its most recent letter, he said.

Mejia and Chavez said they understand the state commission has its mandate, but the county also has an obligation to protect its residents' interests.

"Having that type of a footprint in south county, regardless though of what that is, is absolutely going to change the nature of Thurston County forever," Chavez said.

In addition to people, Chavez said an airport could detrimentally impact the environment and affect sensitive species, such as the threatened Mazama pocket gopher.

To further affirm its position, Mejia said the county plans to draft another letter in collaboration with local cities. This letter would be sent to the state commission and local state representatives.


Public Feedback

Constituent feedback toward the proposal has been largely negative, Mejia said. Some have cited pollution and noise concerns while others have noted a general lack of infrastructure in the area, she said.

"I think we're right in line with all of those concerns too," Mejia said. "I really haven't gotten comments from people that say they're in support of it, not to say that they're not in Thurston County, but what we've received so far has been very staunch opposition."

About 57% of 5,687 respondents to a state commission open house on the topic said they opposed the Thurston County Central site. Around 22% supported the site and 21% supported it as long as environmental impacts could be mitigated.

The open house ran from Aug. 15 to Sept. 11 and allowed people to comment on nine other sites. In every case, a majority of respondents opposed the sites.

Another option under consideration would be expanding an already established airfield. As of Sept. 23, the state commission was still exploring adding capacity at Paine Field in Snohomish County.

About 58% of respondents to the open house supported improving Paine Field to accommodate commercial passenger demand. Around 54% supported improving it to meet air cargo needs as well.


State Legislators Weigh In

In a statement, State Senate Republican Leader John Braun said he has received few public comments on the proposed airport until recently, but most of the feedback has been from those opposed.

Braun represents District 20, which extends into south Thurston County. A large portion of the proposed Thurston County Central site would affect his constituents.

When asked whether he supported a site in Thurston County, Braun acknowledged the airport would mean a "permanent end" to most of what makes rural life appealing.

"Ultimately it's not about how I feel, it's about how the people in that part of Thurston County feel," Braun said.

Braun said he voted on the legislation to create the commission exploring the potential sites. While he didn't agree with ruling out sites east of the Cascades, he said a "decision has to be made somehow."

District 20 residents have expressed concerns to state Rep. Ed Orcutt. Preserving the rural character of the area has been a key worry, he said.

"The primary concern is in regard to the impact an airport being added or expanded at that site would have on the rural nature of the areas — both from an environmental aspect as well as from a quality of rural life standpoint," Orcutt said.

In addition to noise and traffic complaints, Orcutt said some have shared concerns about how a major airport could impact sensitive wetlands, waterways and wildlife.

What's Next

The state commission must narrow the options and make a final recommendation to the state legislature before a June deadline.

"Whatever recommendation the CACC delivers to the legislature, it will be just that — a recommendation," Orcutt said. "There are many, many steps any recommendation would need to go through prior to final approval and permitting for construction of an airport."

Like Braun, Orcutt said he plans to listen to his constituents if the proposed site in Thurston County remains under consideration in the months ahead.


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Columbian Newspaper

Saturday crash on St. John’s Road sends two to the hospital
Author: Will Campbell

A two-car crash near Northeast 102nd Street and Northeast St. Johns Road Saturday night sent two people to the hospital, one with life-threatening injuries.

At about 7:19 p.m., emergency crews responded to the crash and found one of the vehicles, a 2002 Ford Escape, on its top and pinning the driver underneath.

“The first patient required heavy extrication as his vehicle rolled several times and came to rest on its top. The patient was half out of the vehicle and pinned by the vehicle to the ground,” according to a news release from Vancouver Fire Department.

The second vehicle, a 2016 Chevrolet Corvette, required some extrication after crashing into a brick wall. The driver of the Corvette was sent to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Speed and alcohol are suspected factors in the crash, and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit.

The names of the two drivers were not released as of Sunday morning.

From Amazon Care to Zócalo Health: Improving health care for Latinos
Author: Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times

At startup Zócalo Health, founders Erik Cardenas and Mariza Hardin set out to build a health care model with their families in mind.

Growing up, Cardenas remembered his parents discussing who could afford to take a day off work to bring him to the doctor — and how they would make up for the lost income that week. At his first visit to a pediatrician’s office with an aquarium and Highlights magazine, his mom thought she had to pay for the coffee.

Hardin remembers, as a child, helping her parents fill out Medicaid forms and her grandparents complete Medicare forms. As an adult, she found she was still doing the same. While working at Amazon Care, the company’s soon-to-be-shuttered health care service, she remembers thinking: “What if Mom could also experience this concierge-like service?”

Now, Hardin and Cardenas, another former Amazon Care leader, hope to bring individualized care to their mothers, families, friends and the Latino population with a new startup, Zócalo Health. The company is working to build a system that will incorporate a patient’s culture and history, foster relationships between providers and patients, and shorten the time it takes to get an appointment.

Zócalo Health, founded in Seattle in August 2021, raised $5 million in seed funding this month to support the launch of its virtual primary care services in California, Washington and Texas.

It saw its first patient in California in July. After a moment of reflection, both founders stopped to call their moms “to say, ‘It’s happening, we did it,’ “ Hardin said.

“The biggest problem that we have here is that for too long we’ve let the Latino community depend on safety-net services,” Cardenas said in an interview. “There’s a ton of opportunity especially with such a large demographic to really bring just a new way of delivering care.”

Different model

Zócalo Health offers a subscription model for patients — $350 per year for an individual and $550 for a family membership — or a $50 single-visit consultation. Patients will work with a primary-care team that includes physicians, nurses and mental health therapists as well as a promotor de salud, or community health worker.

That community health worker will help personalize the experience for each patient and focus on more than just physical health, starting with an onboarding call that could lead to discussion of behavioral health and environmental needs.

The community health workers will also follow up with patients if a prescription isn’t picked up to see why. If cost is a burden, they’ll help find a lower-priced option. If getting to the pharmacy is the holdup, they’ll set it up for delivery.

Zócalo Health hopes to offer patients something beyond the one-size-fits-all model that is so common in health care today, Hardin said.

“It really means being able to take in someone’s background, their family, the environment they’re living in now, paired with their history and where they came from as all part of the health care experience,” she said.

The founders don’t see the startup as having many competitors in the space. Instead, it’s filling a gap that has been left untouched.

In Washington, 13% of the population identifies as Latino but just 3.4% of the state’s 14,700 practicing physicians self-identified as Latino, according to a 2020 report from the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health.

Several predominantly Latino counties in Central and Eastern Washington don’t meet the federal standard for ratio of primary care providers to population, the report found.

Nationally, Latino resident physicians have been underrepresented in health care for years. A study of Census Bureau data from 2001 to 2017 found the U.S. had an average of 37 physicians per 100,000 people but the Latino population had only 14 per 100,000 people.

“We’re tapping into a need that’s been ignored for many generations,” Hardin said.

Before starting Zócalo Health, Cardenas worked on the tech behind Amazon Care and Hardin worked on business development as the health care service got off the ground. Hardin later also worked for Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing arm, as a health and human services program manager.

Now, Zócalo Health is part of the AWS Healthcare Accelerator for Health Equity, a mentorship program for startups that are using the cloud services to increase access to health care and reduce disparities in the system.

Like Amazon, Zócalo Health is customer-obsessed, Cardenas said. And it’s focused on data — hoping to collect information that “goes beyond the exam room” to provide a holistic patient experience — and efficiency.

It doesn’t see technology as the backbone of the startup but does expect that putting the right tech in the hands of the right community health workers will speed up communication with patients and connect them with the right services to address their needs faster.

Because every patient wants “their health care experience to be as easy as an Amazon purchase,” tech companies are raising the bar for other players in the space,” Hardin said.

“It causes us all to double down on customer experience, on making sure we’re meeting the customer where they’re at,” she said. “You are forced to think big when Big Tech enters the room.”

Goodbye, Amazon Care

In August, Amazon announced it would end its health care service at the end of the year after determining it wasn’t the “right long-term solution” for its customers. But it planned to stay involved in the industry and sees health care as “ripe for reinvention.” Even without Amazon Care, it will offer direct patient care through its acquisition of One Medical, a primary care provider that serves about 767,000 people. That deal is still subject to regulatory approval.

Cardenas doesn’t expect Amazon’s decision to end its own health care service will slow the innovation momentum in the industry. “The ripple effect of what they’ve done and what they’ll continue to do will have a lasting impact on the health care industry,” he said. “As long as they remain in that space, it’s only a good thing.”

Zócalo Health plans to partner with nonprofits and community groups to hire health workers already living and working in the states where it plans to roll out its services. The founders didn’t have an estimate for the ratio of community health workers to patients and did not disclose how many patients are currently using the service.

The company has five full-time employees and eight contract workers.

Zócalo Health’s virtual services are set to roll out in Washington in October and in Texas by the end of the year. In the future, the company hopes to serve patients nationwide — and act as a blueprint for other populations who lack access and resources to the current health care model.

“What we’re building right now is a playbook that can be used for other populations, other groups, other hyper-focused solutions that can be used in other communities,” Hardin said. “What we’re trying is something that hasn’t been done before.”

“We listen and we provide a vehicle for talking about any and everything with a physician,” she said. “And we don’t cut you off.”

As mortgage rates soared, here’s how much homebuyers lost in purchasing power
Author: Amber Bonefont, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Homebuyers have lost six figures in buying power over the past year, thanks to soaring mortgage rates, according to new research.

It’s the equivalent of about $140,000, a new report from RedFin calculates, as mortgage rates jumped to 6% since the beginning of the year.

“Raising interest rates is necessary to fight inflation, but it comes with some painful side effects — especially for homebuyers,” said Chen Zhao, Redfin’s economics research lead.

Based on a $3,000 monthly budget, a buyer can get a home around $479,750 with today’s interest rate of 6%, according to RedFin’s calculations.

A year ago, they could have gotten a home of about $621,000 with the same monthly budget when rates were about 3%.

The jump in rates is putting more pressure on buyers that have already been dealing with a torrid housing market marked by low inventory, high prices and bidding wars, said Craig Garcia, president of Capital Partners Mortgage in Coral Springs.

“And for the folks who have been in the game this year [looking for homes] they have seen their monthly payment situation getting worse. Not only do they have trouble finding a home that they would like, they are looking at a significantly higher payment than before,” he added.

For many buyers, it’s forced them to make adjustments on how much they are able to spend monthly on a home, or even the type of home or area they want to live in. Some are pivoting to adjustable-rate mortgages in the hopes of getting a cheaper initial rate and possibly refinancing in the future.

For others, it may prevent them from qualifying in general.

“Some people may have lost the ability to qualify overall. If you were very thin before — which many people were, given where the property values have risen to — you may have been basically pushed out where you can’t qualify for a whole lot,” said J.C. de Ona, Southeast Florida division president for Centennial Bank. “At some point earlier this year, they were perfectly fine qualifying for a house in the area they were looking, but now they can’t.”

Why are rates rising?

Mortgage rates hit a record low of about 2.6% during the housing boom, helping fuel a soaring housing market as buyers jumped to get record-low rates.

Rates hovered about 3% during 2021, before they started to creep up in 2022 as the Federal Reserve announced it would be working to combat rising inflation in the country.

Now, rates for a mortgage are the highest they have been in about 15 years, having reached 6% in September.

It remains to be seen if rates will keep rising and whether it will continue to have a cooling effect on the housing market.

“Generally you will see the market cool off, but ultimately I think it will be short-lived before the market gets going again,” de Ona said. “There are those who held off on buying a home [when the rates went up], so when the rates go back down, you’ll have that pent-up demand that will start the market back up again.”

Four books from first-time authors for fall
Author: Crystal Paul, The Seattle Times

Although spring may be the herald of newness and renewal, fall boasts other beginnings — the start of school, the inevitable return of pumpkin spice, the launch of new TV shows and, of course, a slew of new books to read. To double up on the new and breathe some new life into the season usually associated with decay and dreaded family gatherings, we rounded up some of the best books by debut authors making their mark this fall.

From stories centering animals to new takes on the horror genre and androids versus octopuses (you read that right), this list promises to bring a dose of excitement to the sleepy days of autumn.

From the melting Arctic to the bomb-ridden Gaza Strip to a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary, this debut collection from Talia Lakshmi Kolluri tells stories of human suffering, connection and cruelty … but it tells them through the voices of animals. A hound at a wildlife sanctuary charged with protecting rhinoceroses, a starving tiger in the Sundarbans, a donkey at zoo in Gaza, a polar bear watching as his world melts around him, all of Kolluri’s stories are taken from real-life events around the world, sometimes mixing together different stories, myths and tragedies.

Though each story is told by and from the perspectives of the animals, you can’t help but see the human imprint in each of them. We are there in the backgrounds — the cause of the melting glaciers, the caretaker at the zoo and the bombers threatening its existence, the protectors of the wildlife and the poachers that threaten it. This collection lays bare the inextricable human-animal connection — we live here in this terrible, beautiful, ruthless and harmonious world together and we share in the life and death, suffering and triumph of it all.

  • ‘Daughters of the New Year’

By E.M. Tran (Hanover Square Press, $27.99, available Oct. 11)

A haunted journey through a family’s history, “Daughters of the New Year” travels from present day New Orleans and the unique experiences of three second-generation Vietnamese American daughters back through their matrilineal line and across the Atlantic to the Vietnam War and colonial and pre-colonial Vietnam. The way is guided by specters of Vietnamese women past as the three daughters and their mother Xuan seem to become ghosts themselves the further you read into their ancestry. As their history becomes apparent to the reader, the daughters and even the mother remain in the dark about their ancestors’ secrets and lives, making the reader feel much more keenly how much was lost through colonization, war, racism and displacement.

  • ‘White Horse’

By Erika T. Wurth (Flatiron Books, $27.99, available Nov. 1)

Let’s not forget that fall is also the time of spirits (Día de Muertos) and things that go bump in the night (Halloween). Erika T. Wurth’s debut (with a major publisher; she has published collections and poetry with indie presses) “White Horse” doesn’t forget it. Equal parts horror and magical realism with a noir edge, you can practically smell the cigarette smoke and stale whiskey seeping from the pages as easily as you can feel the hairs standing up on the back of your own neck as the heroine faces screaming ghosts, creeping shadows, and a monster that smells of human flesh and that’s rarely made itself known outside of Indigenous communities.

But there’s more to it than the supernatural. There on the edges of the pages the very real horror story of the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S., Canada and Latin America haunts. Of Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent and raised outside of Denver, Wurth also draws on her own upbringing to bring a raw realism to her depictions of urban Indigenous life in the West.

You won’t find anything else like it this fall.

Other debuts we’re looking forward to:

  • ‘The Mountain in the Sea’

By Ray Nayler (MCD, $28, available Oct. 4)

OK, I haven’t read this one yet, but the premise is too good to pass up and I can’t wait to give it a go. Remember, the not-so-brief preoccupation with zombies and vampires in the early 2010s? Well, I think we have a new combo to capture our imaginations — androids and octopuses. That’s right, Ray Nayler’s debut novel sends the world’s first android a few leagues under the sea to break bread with a newly discovered (and rapidly proliferating) species of highly intelligent octopuses that may have developed their own language and culture.

Will it be any good? We’ll see but given that octopuses have, in reality, proven to be quite intelligent and given our increasingly roboticized and intelligent computerized society, one can hope that this debut from a former foreign service officer who will soon be serving as an adviser to the Office of Marine Sanctuaries will have a lot to say about what constitutes intelligence and what happens when humans are no longer the smartest species on the planet.

  • ‘Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood’

By Chelsea Conaboy (Henry Holt and Co., $27.99, available Sept. 13)

Yes, I’m a mom of a toddler and have one on the way, so I’m interested in a book about the legitimate science behind the thinly veiled insult/excuse of “mom brain.” So, shoot me. I also happen to have a degree in behavioral neuroscience. So this book basically looks like candy to me.

As a demographic that is often trivialized, minimized and outright forgotten about in society, mothers deserve a book that takes a popular look at the science of how making a person with your body fundamentally changes your body’s chemistry, your brain. With a fair amount of disinformation out there about motherhood making women less suited for the workforce, here’s hoping we see a good amount of myth-busting in this debut from journalist, public health enthusiast and mother Chelsea Conaboy.

Who is really buying all the housing in Clark County?
Author: Sarah Wolf

As Clark County residents try to reconcile themselves to rapidly increasing rents and home prices, one possible villain has emerged in the popular imagination: corporate homebuyers.

The notion of private investors buying available homes and pricing out local residents has even entered into the debate among congressional candidates, with Republican Joe Kent blaming prices on large international investors.

“Right now, we have a major problem where major global corporations and hedge funds like BlackRock are being allowed to purchase massive amounts of housing using our pension fund — using our money,” Kent said in a Tuesday debate.

An investigation of sales data by The Columbian shows such claims in Clark County are significantly overblown, however.

Only about 2.5 percent of the homes in Clark County were purchased by corporations, investors or local residents as investment properties over three years, according to data analyzed by The Columbian. Neither BlackRock nor any of the other companies Kent named in the debate was among those purchasers.

BlackRock specifies on its website that it does not buy single-family homes, despite viral social media allegations that it is “buying every single family house they can find.”

Moreover, real estate agents and affordable housing advocates contacted by The Columbian say they are unconcerned with corporations buying homes. They attribute rising prices to low housing supplies, an extremely competitive market and laws allowing landlords to raise rents with no limitations other than a six6-month warning.

But the question remains: In Clark County’s crisis-level home market where many local residents can’t afford to buy a home, should corporations or even locals owning a second home for additional income feel like they’re contributing to the issue?

Buying homes

In some metro areas, corporations purchased homes at record-high levels in 2021, according to a study first published in the Washington Post. It said this type of homebuying can push potential first-time buyers out of a market that already has a highly limited supply of housing.

When the Washington Post first published the story in February, it incorrectly stated that Clark County’s home sales were dominated by corporate investors. The story has been corrected since The Columbian inquired about it.

Corporate purchases are actually low in Clark County, accounting for 618 of 24,624 purchases, or about 2.5 percent, of residential single-family home purchases between January 2020 and July of this year, according to the analysis of Clark County Assessor’s Office data conducted by The Columbian. These 618 homes were bought by 441 different investors. Clark County-based Nylund Homes Inc. was responsible for the largest share of purchases, buying 23 homes since 2020.

The term “investors” includes a wide range of buyers, from mom-and-pop landlords who might rent out a second home to prepare for retirement, to national real estate investment companies that own tens of thousands of homes. In The Columbian’s analysis of the data, “investors” were labeled as buyers whose names include the keywords “LLC,” “Inc,” “corp,” “homes” or “company.”

American Homes 4 Rent, Zillow Homes Property Trust and locally owned Nylund are among the corporations buying homes in Clark County.

American Homes 4 Rent provides the perfect example as to why these companies are buying homes: It can rent them out for a profit and sell the homes when the market’s home prices have increased.

The reasons corporations buy homes vary, though. Investors might also fix up the properties and sell them again for a higher price. Others buy homes for reasons unrelated to profit-making, such as to provide housing for employees.

American Homes 4 Rent purchased one home at 1305 W. 16th Ave. in La Center earlier this year. The company also bought three other homes in the same neighborhood. All were built in 2020 and have three bedrooms but vary in square footage and the number of bathrooms.

The La Center home was purchased in April for $450,000, according to Redfin. The home sale website now estimates the home is worth $478,352.

American Homes 4 Rent has bought 17 homes in Clark County since last year, including in La Center, Washougal, Battle Ground, Vancouver and Ridgefield. The company has purchased 36 homes in the county in the last decade.

According to the company’s second-quarter financial results, rents and other single-family property revenues increased 15.4 percent from the previous year to $369.1 million. American Homes 4 Rent’s portfolio grew in that quarter to 54,786 homes nationwide.

“Combined with the sustained demand backdrop for single-family rentals, we are well-positioned to deliver strong results throughout 2022 and beyond,” David Singelyn, American Homes 4 Rent’s chief executive, said in the report.

In other parts of the country, American Homes 4 Rent has been criticized for coming in with corporate money and outbidding local homebuyers, all while driving up competition in real estate markets, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company’s purchases, however, have not seemed to have made a difference in the local real estate market in Clark County, which has been squeezed by low inventory for more than a year.

The company, which went public in 2013, was named one of “America’s most trusted companies” by Newsweek in March of this year.

Zillow Homes Property Trust was also been buying up homes in Clark County over the past two years. Zillow had attempted to invest heavily in buying homes nationwide, including Clark County, in the last few years, but the program fell apart.

And while Nylund does appear to rent out some of the homes it buys, it also renovates and sells others, according to its website.

Real estate, housing advocates unconcerned

Keeping Clark County’s first-time homebuyers in mind, local real estate agents and affordable housing advocates mostly agree that corporate homebuyers are not having a large impact on the local housing and rental markets.

“I think at this time, it’s a low percentage to the point of not making a difference,” said Amy Asivido, managing broker in Clark County with the Asivido Team at Keller Williams Premiere Partners.

Although corporations may not appear to be affecting the buying market, renters and homeowners in Clark County are still facing historically high costs of living. With rents at an average of nearly $1,700 for a two-bedroom apartment and with 30-year fixed mortgage rates creeping above 6 percent for the first time since 2008, homeownership is becoming less and less attainable for many Clark County residents.

If more investors take root in Clark County’s housing market as they have in other metro areas, they could further squeeze individuals and families out of the market. It could have long-term consequences for affordability, as homeownership is an important means of building wealth for low- and moderate-income families. Squeezing these families out of the housing market, therefore, further limits their abilities to afford a house going forward.

Local real estate agents have varying opinions on whether corporate homeownership could become a larger issue in Clark County in the future.

On one hand, Clark County is growing, having about a 20 percent population increase since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The growth could be attractive for investors, said Asivido, especially in places like the Waterfront Vancouver that are seeing large amounts of development.

“There’s such a limited amount of residential (housing) just in that specific walkable area that that will increase in value, and it’s a really good investment,” Asivido said about the Vancouver waterfront.

Additionally, though housing costs in Clark County have increased, the area is still much more affordable than some other metro areas across the country.

“What’s funny is, people that have grown up here in Clark County think that our prices are just ridiculously high,” Asivido said. “But if you’re from a very high cost-of-living area like New York or California, they’re like, ‘This is great.’ ”

As a result, housing in Clark County could serve as a promising long-term investment for corporations.

“Real estate, overall, is one of the most fail-safe investments that you can have,” Asivido said.

But on the other hand, a severe lack of available housing stock in Vancouver and Clark County could actually drive corporate buyers away, said Clark County Association of Realtors President Connie Bovee.

“Clark County is one area that has the least amount of housing units available and buildable land,” Bovee said. “If the corporations are competing with the people that really do want to buy a home, in my personal opinion, I think that they would look into areas that are easier for them to invest in and are less costly.”

The Vancouver Housing Authority does not have information about corporate homebuyers in Clark County, according to Executive Director Roy Johnson. However, he suggested that community land trust programs, such as Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat Home Trust, a program that aims to create and preserve affordable housing in Clark County, might be helping to ward off additional corporate homebuying.

For example, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity recently purchased 42 homes scattered throughout Clark County in collaboration with the VHA. As a part of the Habitat Home Trust, those homes will only be resold to low-income families and won’t be subject to rapidly inflating housing costs, according to Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Josh Townsley.

“Just as all other Habitat homeowners, the buyers of these homes will own their home through an affordable mortgage and have the opportunity to build equity over time,” he said. “The difference between these homes and traditional Habitat homes is the land will stay under the ownership of the Habitat Home Trust.”

This takes Habitat’s housing solution from being a 30-year affordable housing solution through the duration of a mortgage, to being a permanent solution to housing instability, he said.

LLCs buying homes

Most homes purchased by investors in Clark County were purchased by limited liability companies, or LLCs. The exact legal definition of LLCs varies by state, but a core definition is that LLCs give owners the limited liability benefits of a corporate structure while still providing the tax benefits of a partnership.

LLCs are a good option for business ventures that are owned by single individuals or small groups — usually the case for investor-owned real estate. However, when extended to the ownership of real property, LLCs make it hard to know who actually owns the house.

The Columbian’s investigation of corporate homebuyers showed how difficult it can be to identify who owns many Clark County homes.

What makes LLCs attractive to small-scale owners also makes them attractive to large corporate investors looking to buy multiple properties without attracting attention — especially in a market where evictions and rental rate increases are increasing.

According to Shelterforce, an independent publication that covers affordable housing: “When a private equity firm or large corporate landlord uses residential housing as collateral, often the formal owner of the property is an anonymous LLC, one per property. It’s difficult to accurately quantify and trace the scope of this phenomenon, because there is no transparency. As these financial practices accelerate, the number of homes with untraceable or difficult-to-trace ownership proliferates. Regardless of investor size or type, LLC ownership of real property can create problems at the local level for tenants, neighbors, and municipalities.”

Some of those problems include wrongfully evicting tenants, increased rates of property deterioration and even property abandonment.

For example, the Southern California home-flipping giant Wedgewood Inc. has come under scrutiny for its sprawling network of LLCs that the company uses to purchase homes. In 2020, at least 98 active LLCs were used by Wedgewood Inc. to purchase more than 100 properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the company is particularly active.

One of those LLCs — Catamount Properties 2018, LLC — purchased four homes in Clark County between 2020 and 2022.

According to NBC Bay Area, a search of court filings in four counties where Wedgewood has owned property revealed more than 300 lawsuits between 2015 and 2020 that involve the company — mostly unlawful detainers where the company was attempting to evict a tenant or former owners living in a home it recently purchased.

Additionally, American Homes 4 Rent purchased multiple homes in Clark County under three different LLCs: one through AH4R LLC, 16 through AH4R Properties Two LLC and three through Amh Nb Development Wa LLC.

Individuals purchasing multiple homes using multiple LLCs is also common in Clark County, according to The Columbian’s analysis. For example, 372 homes were purchased by LLCs that did not purchase any other homes between 2020 and 2022. Some of the owners of those LLCs can be found using secretary of state filings, revealing that some individuals own multiple homes through multiple LLCs in Clark County.

While purchasing homes using an LLC isn’t inherently frowned upon, the practice has sometimes been criticized for contributing to the financialization of the housing market — treating housing like stocks and bonds.

Transparency is also an issue with LLC homeownership, and issues with LLC owner identification have prompted some states, such as New York, to pass laws that make it easier to unmask owners.

To ensure housing is more affordable for the county’s homebuyers, Bovee recommends the county focus on increasing housing stock rather than worrying about corporations buying homes. Some ways of accomplishing this would be using government subsidies to incentivize construction of new homes and passing more legislation that enables zoning for more housing units, she said.

“That would potentially increase our supply and keep prices hopefully still affordable in our county,” Bovee said. “I think it would open up homeownership to, hopefully, more first-time homebuyers.”

The Stand (Washington Labor News)

Next update: Tuesday, Oct. 4
Author: admin

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