Banking on unused land for housing in Spokane
Company approaches goal of $1M in funds, donations to go toward low-income housingJuly 20th, 2023
Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties LLC, commonly referred to as Spokane land bank, has received $970,000 in land donations and grant money since its launch last August, close to meeting its goal of $1 million in its first year.
Even if the land bank falls short of its mark by August, completed transactions and others in the works could bring the company’s total real estate donations value and funds for housing to nearly $2 million by the end of the calendar year.
In May, the organization under which the Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties is formed, the Greater Spokane Low Income Housing Development Consortium, was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those funds are for the assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites—land that is abandoned or underused because of contamination from industrial use—in the Northeast, East Central, and West Central neighborhoods of Spokane.
Ben Stuckart, executive director of Greater Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium and former Spokane City Council president, says the half-million-dollar grant will fund about 17 site assessments, as well as clean-up projects.
Also, in the first week of this month, the land bank’s board of directors voted to accept two land donations—the organization’s firsts since its inception—with a combined value of $405,000.
“It’s a monumental day for the organization,” says Stuckart of the land donations. “Once we get these out to the community, I think we’ll see an even bigger benefit. People will see that it (the land bank) actually works and that we can follow through from an idea to an organization to actually creating low-income housing.”
The goal of Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties is to receive land or abandoned properties and work with nonprofits to then purchase the land at a reduced cost from the company.
It often takes organizations a long time to raise funding to purchase a property, and by the time they’ve raised the funds, the property is no longer available in many instances, says Stuckart. In addition, applications for certain types of funding from state and federal agencies often require an applicant to have the land in possession to be eligible to receive funding, he says.
“Unless you have the land to show them, they’re not going to give you any money for it,” says Stuckart. “No matter what the project is, land is consistently a barrier to getting things off the ground.”
The land donations came from members of the community who had read a news article about the land bank, says Stuckart.
Janice Loux, a retired accountant living in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, donated an undeveloped lot at 1605 W. Wilson, also in Peaceful Valley, valued at $135,000.
Loux says she was compelled to donate the land she’s owned since 2007 because she supports filling in empty lots in the city’s core and not expanding Spokane’s boundaries into the natural environment.
“And Spokane is in desperate need of moderate to low-income housing,” says Loux, who has received various offers on the property.
The second property, valued at $270,000, is located on the 2500 block of east Euclid Avenue, in East Spokane’s Bemiss neighborhood. Stuckart anticipates turning over both properties to local nonprofits by the end of July or August, at a reduced price to cover funds spent on lawyer fees, appraisals, environmental assessments, and title checks. The Wilson Avenue property, for example, will likely be sold to a nonprofit for an estimated $20,000.
Stuckart says the organization also expects to finalize a donation of 100 lots valued at $2 million by the end of the year. Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties will share the donation in agreement with Habitat for Humanity-Spokane, which will receive 50 lots.
Stuckart says the 100 lots will help multiple organizations who only need or can afford five or 10 lots.
“That will help out multiple organizations that really wouldn’t be able to participate in building affordable housing,” he says. “That one is really exciting, and it came about because the developer knew what we were doing and is really committed to low-income housing.”
Such organizations might include the Spokane Alliance, Latinos en Spokane, and the Carl Maxey Center in the East Central neighborhood.
Stuckart declines to disclose further details of the ongoing discussion.
As reported in the Journal, Spokane Regional Land Holding Properties was established with a $45,000 grant from GoWest Foundation, which works to expedite community initiatives by partnering with credit unions and community organizations in six Western states. Since then, GoWest has dispersed an additional $20,000 grant to the land bank, says Stuckart.
The organization was formed as a limited liability company under advisement from real estate lawyers, Stuckart says. He is paid through the consortium and splits his time evenly between both organizations. He says the long-term goal is to fund an executive director position for the land bank.
A main focus of the land bank is working with organizations focused on building low-income housing for their constituents, such as Spokane-based Thrive International, which is working with the Ukrainian refugee population, the Spokane Alliance, and Latinos en Spokane, says Stuckart.
“We’ve been meeting with them weekly,” he says of the latter group. “They have the need for building more low-income housing for the Latino population.”
The company also is meeting with the the Carl Maxey Center, at 3114 E. Fifth, to offer resources and assistance in obtaining vacant land surrounding Interstate 90.
Luc Jasmin III is a community organizer and entrepreneur involved in securing the vacant land around the East Central neighborhood for low-income housing.
When the I-90 was built over 50 years ago, it cut through the East Central neighborhood and displaced a lot of people of color, says Jasmin.
“The land bank has been a partner in ensuring to restore the East Central neighborhood along I-90,” says Jasmin.