Spokane Journal of Business

A. The Journal’s View: Collaboration encouraging in affordable housing issue

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It’s encouraging that landlord and tenant representatives here are working together during the coronavirus crisis by seeking rental assistance to keep tenants in their homes during this time of widespread loss of employment and income.

We’d like to see this spirit of collaboration between the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest and the Tenants Union of Washington State extend beyond the current emergency, because pandemic aside, the underlying tight housing market is exacerbating the need for more affordable housing units here.

It was only last year that landlord and tenant groups were at odds over proposed tenant protection regulations that some landlords said would drive them out of the market and deepen the housing shortage here.

Now, citing common ground, the landlord association and tenants union are working with local service organizations to seek rental assistance from state and local governments.

It’s a collaboration growing out of urgent necessity, as Steve Corker, president of the landlord association, estimates residential tenants in Spokane County will be more than $3 million behind in rent by the end of July, and that accumulation of debt isn’t slowing down.

“The virus created a hardship for tenants and landlords,” he says.

While the situation looks bleak, the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, the county, and the state have dedicated so far more than $2 million in Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding for rental and mortgage assistance. The groups think more might come this way through the state Department of Commerce’s statewide allocation of $100 million for rental assistance.

Gov. Jay Inslee last week called for similar collaboration between tenants and landlord groups at the state level as he extended until Oct. 15 the Washington ban that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for failing to pay rent because of pandemic-related loss of income.

Terri Anderson, Spokane community organizer for the tenants union says, “There’s good sound business reasons to use CARES Act funds for rental assistance.” If landlords can’t pay their mortgages and property taxes, local governments will have to cut budgets and services.

Corker asserts there’s a shortage of about 35,000 units of low-income housing statewide, and landlord investors need to be part of the solution. But the landlord group isn’t made up of social workers, nor is the tenants union. Rather, they jointly rely on resources within a network of 30 organizations, including the Spokane Housing Authority, Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, and Catholic Charities Spokane.

“If we don’t develop coalitions, private-sector involvement in the most challenging areas isn’t going to work,” he says.

Both Anderson and Corker are optimistic the collaboration between tenant and landlord interests will continue beyond pandemic-related issues.

Corker says the landlord-tenant work group here plans to keep working with the city on potential future legislation that deals with the needs of tenants but doesn’t create an environment that drives landlords out of the market.

We think that that kind of collaboration is a good starting point in the effort to supply a diverse housing market here, which is vital to economic sustainability.

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