The city of Vancouver declared an affordable housing emergency at its meeting Monday night. The declaration applies to affordable housing for “very-low income households” in the city.

Speaking at a city council workshop prior to the vote, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said the declaration is the first step toward developing a property tax levy to provide an affordable housing fund.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt says that by declaring an affordable housing state of emergency the city is taking an important step towards addressing the city's housing problems.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt says that by declaring an affordable housing state of emergency the city is taking an important step towards addressing the city’s housing problems.

Washington State Department of Transportation

“(It’s) obviously a very pressing issue for our community whether we are declaring an emergency for the ordinance or just a recognition that we have a housing issue in our community,” Leavitt said.

Voters would have the opportunity to vote on the property tax increase in November.

Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate is below two-percent. At the same time, the city’s rental rates have been some of the fastest growing in the nation.

According to city officials, rents increased 11 percent from March of 2015 to last month.

Like much of Washington state, homelessness in the Vancouver area increased in the last year. City officials said Vancouver’s point-in-time count in January 2016 was 12 percent higher than the tally done in January 2015.

Vancouver resident Karen Morrison told city councilors that she was concerned the city wasn’t doing enough to keep people from becoming homeless.

“Would there ever come a time when there would be just a cap on the rent?” Morrison asked.

Leavitt responded, saying the city has not had formal discussions about rental caps. In fact, state law prevents cities from imposing rent control.

“If there was to be an opportunity to do that, cap rental rates, it would have to change at the state level before we would be able to do it here,” Leavitt said.