Why Realtors, others pulled out of city’s housing plan

Report said out of date, doesn’t convey urgency of homebuyer barriers

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In the Housing Action Plan the Spokane City Council is expected to consider on July 26, you’ll see the names of the Housing Plan Working Group, individuals and organizations included to provide guidance on existing housing challenges, provide input and feedback on direction, and review potential strategies and actions, including the Spokane Association of Realtors. 

Except that’s not true—not anymore.

On June 11, the Spokane Association of Realtors wrote a letter to the city saying we’re out. The letter is signed by the leaders of the Spokane Association of Realtors and by the Spokane Home Builders Association, Greenstone Corp., and the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium.

The first paragraph of the letter reads:

“After careful consideration, we must formally withdraw our support of the city of Spokane’s Housing Action Plan. We find the needs assessment to be woefully inadequate, lacking in any necessary pathways for change and failing to recognize the urgency surrounding the severe need for immediate housing in our community.”

Why would local Realtors, homebuilders, developers, and housing advocates drop out of a conversation on housing after supporting it for most of the past year?

Because the city isn’t listening.

For months, we’ve tried to impress on the city these facts, supported by third-party researchers and independent data: We have a painfully low rental availability (less than 1% vacancy), a worryingly low housing inventory (20-day supply), wildly escalating housing prices (30% year-on-year), and infuriating rush-hour traffic on Interstate 90 that has tripled well beyond capacity in the past five years by commuters forced to live in one place and work in another.

Here’s the second paragraph from the letter:

“From the beginning of this process, we have been concerned with the insistent reliance on out-of-date housing information. Despite our best efforts to supply the city with real-time data and growth analysis by national and regional housing experts, these projects have fallen on deaf ears. We contend you cannot make good decisions with bad data.”

We fear Council members will be looking at bad data and using them to misdiagnose the ailments currently present in our housing market, putting us on track to make it exponentially worse for thousands of people who live here and thousands more who want to live here.

The city’s Housing Action Plan is a plan to fail at housing in our area.

We have failed to build enough homes to meet demands in the Spokane area for more than a decade. Migrations caused by the recent pandemic have lit a housing fire. Spokane housing prices are increasing at a pace never seen before in this community.

The median sales price of a Spokane County home was right around $200,000 this time just six years ago. Today, that same house sells for twice that. The median sales price in Spokane County today is $375,500, and it’s climbing fast. This lack of housing has a greater impact on people of color and families. It also contributes to nearly every major social challenge in our community, from racial equity to greenhouse gas emissions to family stability to homelessness.

The reason is simple: Spokane has suffered from a 94% reduction in available homes for sale since 2010, along with a limited supply of buildable land.

Low inventory has led to thousands of families renting who cannot find a place to buy.

This has created a dangerously low level of rental vacancies of under 1%.

From personal health to family stress to student performance in school to increased levels of homelessness, Spokane’s lack of attainable housing has triggered a severe impact on the health of our citizens—especially among families of color and families with children.

Spokane has high levels of cost-burdened families spending more of their income on shelter than most similar cities in the state and the U.S.

All we’re asking the City Council to do is include attainable housing for Spokane that gives residents all reasonable options.

We can do this by:

•Allowing more housing types. Did you know townhomes, such as you see in Kendall Yards, are illegal to build anywhere else in the city?

•Expanding zoning and growth opportunities. Not everyone wants to live downtown, along a high-traffic corridor, or with hundreds of neighbors in a complex. That should be your choice.

•Removing self-imposed barriers (regulations and fees) on entry-level housing to encourage home ownership for all.

Clearly, the city of Spokane is not listening to us. Perhaps Council members will listen to you.

There is something you can do right now. Join us by sending your own letter to the Spokane City Council so that they know many of their constituents feel the same way we do about the future of housing in our city.

We must do everything we can immediately, or for many, Spokane will no longer be a place to call home.

Tom Clark is the 2021 Governmental Affairs Committee chair for the Spokane Association of Realtors.

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