[Note: This is my record of the second part of a two part community forum held at the Vancouver Central Library in downtown Vancouver, Washington about the issue of affordable housing within the community. The minutes to the first meeting can be found here.]
There was a contrast between last week’s panel discussion about affordable housing and this week’s facilitated conversation. Instead of rows of chairs facing a panel of experts, this time the Columbia Room was divided up into about a dozen tables, each with about eight chairs around them, with one trained facilitator to help the conversation go on and make sure that everyone participated and also with one WSU Vancouver student taking notes and recording the discussion for the purposes of helping to create a report and share the thoughts and ideas of the community with elected leaders and so on. Our group consisted of people who showed up early, so we chatted with each other and got to know each other a bit, and I got to size up the meeting as a whole, which consisted of far more women than men, and a stark divide between young and politically liberal college students, middle aged libertarians, and elderly women. Our group was not particularly diverse–it was strongly elderly and female, with no ethnic diversity in the least. Before the facilitated discussion started, we shared our concerns about the ferocity of the previous meeting and the absence of NGO involvement in the panel. We also read some conversation guidelines that encouraged respect and civility, and heard from the organizers of the forum that the objectives of tonight’s event were to have a safe, deliberate exercise and to capture the conversation of the community and report on it. The community, at least the part of it that showed up, had a lot to say.
The facilitated discussion consisted of seven questions; at least, that is how many we got to in our chatty and talkative group, which was dominated by a couple of fairly loud-mouthed people, namely the two guys at the table, and even featured some written questions from our otherwise silent but lovely note taker. The first question, as well as the seventh, asked whether affordable housing was an individual problem or a community problem; our group largely agreed that it was a mixture of both, so long as both were properly defined, which we spent some time doing. After that, we were asked whether housing was a human right. We all agreed it was a human need, a fundamental need, for shelter, but then there was the question as to whether if housing was considered a human right if that would place an obligation upon others in the community to provide for that need if one was unable to provide for it by oneself, which created a bit of controversy. We were then asked about the root causes of the current housing crisis in Clark County, there were conversations about history, about the economic crash in 2008, about the collapse of building construction, about cultural expectations of home ownership, about the problem of affordability and wages and density, the profitability of multi-family dwellings (like apartment buildings), and about the sense of community. After this we were asked if the community could come together, and we were generally of the belief that all institutions should be included, and that collaboration is important, but there were questions as to how prices were to be reduced, possible solutions including fairly small and simple dwellings, the concern over who pays, and the conversion about the preservation of safety and infrastructure. The sixth question asked about viable solutions, including building more affordable housing, determining needs and addressing those needs in a variety of ways rather than looking for only one answer, with the possibly drastic solution of doing nothing so that people moving into Clark County from elsewhere simply have nowhere to live.
After the facilitated discussions were over, the dozen or so note takers who were reporting on the groups came up to speak. There was a lot of repetition. In fact, I was pleased to note that our group seemed far more sober-minded and sound thinking than most of the groups, who went on and on about communal living and the need to increase wages and other such socialist ideas. On the other hand, they also brought a great deal of concern for the homeless, which was an area we discussed as well . Some people had gimmicky solutions about Ikea houses and others commented on the transactional nature of our current society. As an observer, I was struck by the fact that affordable housing is in many ways a moral issue, and like all moral issues it has complicated roots. We have questions of education, of living according to sound economic principles, of the importance of having loyalty to people within the community and not thinking only about oneself but also about others, and the question of who is to be trusted to be both compassionate and competent. These are difficult questions–it is no wonder that we did not even begin to solve the problem of affordable housing in Vancouver, but we at least demonstrated how much concern about the problem exists in the community. And perhaps that is a good enough start.
 See, for example: