Latinos en Spokane, a nonprofit serving the Latino population, has assembled a 75-family cooperative development community that intends to create homeownership—and ideally, generational wealth—for its residents, says Jennyfer Mesa, the organization’s executive director.
Mesa, who has a background in urban planning, says that with rising rents and an increasingly difficult entry to homeownership, the organization wanted to create another option for its constituents. The resulting business group of future tenants is dubbed the Vale Latino Homeownership Cooperative.
“Most developers will first look at a site, think of a concept, then welcome people to rent or buy their homes,” she says. “This is opposite. We’ve had one year of preparation with the tenants who will be owning those properties. They’re designing the home they want, their gardens, and playground. They’re making their own rules.”
Latinos en Spokane is working in collaboration with Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties LLC, commonly referred to as Spokane Land Bank, to locate a site, and Northwest Cooperative Development Center’s Resident-Owned Communities program to educate and prepare the families on cooperative living. SNAP Financial Access Women’s Business Center has provided information seminars on homeownership.
As envisioned, Vale Latino will be made up of 75 prefabricated homes each with an estimated base price for delivery and set up of about $173,000, says Mesa. Latinos en Spokane will apply for grants to provide families with a 20% down payment, which will bring the total loan amount to about $138,000, she says.
Prefabricated homes are customized dwellings built in sections or panels at a warehouse, and then assembled on-site, unlike manufactured homes, which are fully built in the factory before being transported to a site. With a prefabricated home, the homeowner will be able to build equity over time, a key detail to help the residents build generational wealth, says Mesa.
“There’s opportunity (in Spokane) for developing affordable rental units, but also for creating homeownership,” she says. “Homeownership can come in different ways. It’s not always the traditional house.”
Now, Latinos en Spokane is assisting the cooperative to identify and purchase land for their community, she says.
Ben Stuckart, executive director of Greater Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, which oversees Spokane Land Bank, says Vale Latino will require 7 to 10 acres of land to accommodate the entire group.
In this case, the Spokane Land Bank aims to identify land or abandoned properties and then work with the nonprofit to purchase the land.
“The land is the most important problem we’ve run into,” says Stuckart, who lists hurdles such as development moratoriums, zoning, and contaminated groundwater in Airway Heights. “There’s a lot of empty land out there until that problem is solved,” he says.
Depending on the land’s proximity to the city, pollution, and other factors, a 7- to 10-acre property ranges from $500,000 to $2 million, says Stuckart. He and Mesa likely will help Vale Latino apply for a loan from the state Department of Commerce’s Housing Trust Fund, which provides grants or loans for affordable housing projects in Washington. A developer also has indicated he would be willing to help finance a loan, says Stuckart, though he declines to disclose the developer’s name.
Victoria O’Banion, the marketing and acquisitions specialist with Northwest Cooperative Development Center, helped incorporate Vale Latino and says the cooperative is modeled after the New Hampshire-based Resident-Owned Communities USA model, first pioneered over 30 years ago.
In the ROC model, homeowners form a nonprofit business model called a cooperative that owns the land the community occupies. Each household is a member of the cooperative, which gives them an equal share of the land, while members maintain full ownership of their home, she says.
Vale Latino is one of two cooperative developments that have sprouted in Spokane this year, she says.
The other group, which O’Banion also is representing, is Airway United Cooperative, a group of 32 households that have been living in an area in Airway Heights designated as an airport accident potential zone. When the land they rent went up for sale by the owner, they approached O’Banion for help. O’Banion says group members indicated they wished to stay together and are looking for a 5-acre site for their community development.
“We are seeing more and more people who are getting priced out and want to live in a collective community,” says O’Banion.
Latinos en Spokane began as a grassroots movement around 2018 to provide information to immigrants in the community. In 2020, the organization opened its center in the St. Cloud Building, at 1502 N. Monroe, in northwest Spokane. The 6,000-square-foot office has nine employees, including four social workers who provide assistance in the areas of education, immigration, health care and housing. The nonprofit puts on an outdoor cultural market and food bank called El Mercadito the last Sunday of each month. Emprendete is the organization’s business development department, which provides workshops, business plan development, technical assistance, and connections to state and federal grants.
According to a demographics report conducted by Latinos en Spokane, the Latino population in Spokane has grown to 7.4% as of 2021 from 3% in 2000. The organization used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, and University of Washington Latino Center for Health for its study, among other sources.
Much of the population works in labor and service jobs, and nearly half live below the poverty level, the report shows. By 2050, the projected Latino population of Spokane County will be about 25% of its population, the report concludes.
Mesa says many of the affordable housing options in Spokane are rentals, with few options for homeownership. For immigrants, additional barriers include higher interest rates on mortgages for persons with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, she says. An ITIN is a tax-processing number that is available to nonresidents who aren’t eligible for a Social Security number.
“Every day, we see different cases of people who are being taken advantage of,” says Mesa. “We see a lot of cases with labor discrimination, and we see a lot of that with housing.”
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