Spokane Journal of Business

Column: Proposed Spokane rental protections could backfire

Study shows poorest could be harmed if landlords leave market

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A new local report shows how policies such as rent control or just-cause evictions may end up hurting the most vulnerable in our area more than it helps. That’s the conclusion by Whitworth Economics Professor and principal investigator Vange Hochheimer.

The report, titled “Housing as a Social Determination of Health: Implications for Rent Control Policy and Housing Shortage in Spokane,” outlines the critical need housing plays in providing an important social role in determining mental health, family health, and providing a safe environment for individuals.

The study, which was commissioned by the Spokane Association of Realtors, reveals how pressures on landlords likely will result in many Spokane owners converting their rental homes and units back into single-family housing, greatly reducing the availability of rental housing.

Hochheimer writes in the report, “A lower availability of housing in the region … can have significant adverse socioeconomic implications.” The study cites a preliminary survey of more than 700 members of the Spokane-based Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest that reveals 85% of small landlords would consider selling their property should the proposed Spokane “tenant protection” ordinances go into effect.

Among the study’s findings:

•More than 90% of landlords will raise rents to the maximum allowed amount if rent controls go into place.

•With 48% of renters cost burdened – spending 30% or more of income on rent – the threat of homelessness is significant.

•Households of Black and Hispanic members were almost twice as likely as white households to be cost burdened.

•Active strategies for addressing the shortage of housing are minimal.

•Housing supply is at near-record low levels for Spokane County.

Hochheimer concludes, “In terms of housing policy in Spokane County, given the local shortage of housing and the eminent vulnerability threats our poor citizens face, we cannot afford to implement policies that will result in less housing.”

The Spokane Association of Realtors commissioned local firm Grand Fir Analytics LLC to study the potential impacts to local housing.

Spokane Realtors have intuitively known housing is a determinant to quality of life for some time. When we see this confirmed by academic research, our members now understand we must do more for our clients and advocate for accessible housing for all with our local policy makers. That’s the next step for us.

The report offers some policy ideas to move us forward as the pandemic eases. First, it says to acknowledge the problem: “State and local officials, particularly in Spokane County, should not ignore the current housing shortage we are experiencing.”

Second, the report urges decision makers to see the impact of the problem: “Housing is a social determinant of health, and healthy communities are a priority.”

Third, it advises officials to get to work on a solution: “We should continue to look at ways in which we can create more affordable housing.”

The full report is available under the “Projects” tab on the Grand Fir Analytics website: www.grandfiranalytics.com.

The Spokane Association of Realtors was founded in 1911. Today, the association has about 2,500 broker and affiliate members and owns and operates the Spokane Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service.

Tom Clark is the President of the Spokane Association of Realtors and a broker with Kestell Co., of Spokane.

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