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A look into some rent and house price data.

Housing costs are climbing for Cowlitz County renters as local agencies maintain pandemic-related services to help people struggling to pay the added expenses.

The average price of a one-bedroom rental in Cowlitz County increased roughly 6%, while a two-bedroom rental increased 4% from fall 2021 to fall 2022, according to data from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research.

Cowlitz County’s average current rent is several hundred dollars cheaper than the average rent across Washington, but prices for one-bedrooms in Cowlitz County rose about a percentage point higher, year-over-year, compared to the state average.

Steve Bourassa, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, said the demand in housing, for both renters and buyers, has been growing.

According to the center, the average apartment in Cowlitz County in fall 2022 is $1,349 per month, an increase of 4.5% from the same time last year. The average one-bedroom apartment is just under $1,000 per month.

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Cowlitz County data, Bourassa added, has to be taken with a grain of salt because the sample — 1,208 apartment compared to 23,000 in Clark County, for instance — is so small.

However, property management company owner Chris Fry said he has seen, first hand, prices climb for renters, particularly for renters of single-family homes.

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According to Fry, who owns Columbia River Properties, the average rent for a two-bedroom home his climbed from around $1,200 a month to $2,000 a month, largely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wonder sometimes how much people’s income can handle having that much higher rent,” Fry said. “It’s always a concern for me.”

Fry’s company manages around 600 rental properties in Cowlitz County, ranging from Section 8 housing to multi-bedroom homes. He said the limited inventory and a churn of new owners are some of the reasons for higher prices.

Some long-time owners of rental properties sold their properties near the end of the pandemic’s eviction moratorium to avoid dealing with unpaid rent or problematic tenants. Properties that hit the market this year saw their initial rents pushed up by inflation.

Rental assistance remains available

People who fall behind on rent still have options to avoid eviction through the state’s Eviction Resolution Pilot Program.

The state program requires landlords to give tenants who would be evicted for unpaid rent the option to resolve the issue out of court through a third-party mediator.

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The program began during the government’s COVID eviction moratorium and is expected to continue through June 2023. Rental assistance funding is also available through the same time period.

Eviction cases have been the primary focus of the Center for Constructive Resolution’s Longview office since it opened last year. Between July 2021 and September 2022, the center was contacted for 1,208 eviction cases in Cowlitz County. That is more than double the number of cases their Lewis County office received during that same time.

The vast majority of the center’s work involved referring tenants to rent assistance programs through Lower Columbia CAP or Northwest Justice. If a dispute over unpaid rent was more severe, the center would organize mediation sessions and talk to both the tenant and landlord about options to resolve unpaid rent.

Center Executive Director Janice Juntunen said there were many cases where her office never heard back from tenants, which allowed eviction filings to go forward. When they were able to make contact and set up plans, the Center for Constructive Resolution says tenants were able to stay in their homes in 97% of the cases where the center knew the final outcome of the dispute.

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Beginning next year, Juntunen said the center plans to shift focus from eviction resolutions to take on other dispute mediations.

“Hoping that when the time comes and the funding ends for the rental assistance, the landlords and tenants will still look at us as a valuable tool,” she said.