The Journal’s View: Obtainable homeownership must become greater focus
-June 21st, 2018
Obtainable homeownership must become a more central part of the conversation about Spokane’s housing challenges. Homeownership is a keystone of the quality of life that we rightfully boast in the Inland Northwest, but it’s becoming less attainable for the workforce we value so greatly.
In recent months, affordable housing has dominated the conversation about housing challenges that the Spokane community faces. To be clear, business and civic leaders who have shone the light on the need for a variety of housing, across a spectrum of price points, deserve credit for the work they’re doing in that arena. Attempts to address homelessness by Catholic Charities of Spokane and others also are worthy of kudos. Everybody should have a roof over their head—and shouldn’t have to compromise other basic needs to afford a place to live.
That said, the Spokane community is facing another challenge that needs more attention: homes are more expensive, and homeownership is becoming more elusive for a greater number of people.
At the end of May, the Spokane Association of Realtors reported that about 1,390 homes were available for sale through the Spokane Multiple Listing Service, down almost 18 percent from a year ago. That represents a 1.8-month supply, far below the six-month standard for a balanced market.
Predictably, as inventory has dwindled, prices have risen at an inversely proportionate rate; In May, the average price for a home sold through the MLS was $265,100, up 16.5 percent from a year earlier. While that’s good for homeowners who are seeing their properties appreciate and for the Realtor community that’s benefitting from a competitive market, it makes getting into a home more challenging for first-time buyers.
Even before that steep price jump and drop in inventory, Spokane’s homeownership rate was below the national average, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. According to the most recent data, the homeownership rate in Spokane County was 62.4 percent in 2016, more than a percentage point below the 63.6 percent national homeownership rate. For the city of Spokane alone, the gap was much greater, at a 55 percent homeownership rate.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from western Washington, is part of a New Democrat Coalition Housing Task Force, which released a report earlier this month titled “Missing Millions of Homes.”
In summary, the report finds that zoning and land-use regulations are slowing and restricting the building of housing. That’s something we must look at closely at every level of government.
In response to that report’s finding, Heck said, “We have far too few homes. As a result, prices are being bid up, housing consumes an ever-increasing part of family budgets, and those without means are being forced into homelessness. We must recognize this as a crisis and find a way to change public policy to dramatically increase construction and build millions more homes.”
He’s talking about both rentals and owner-occupied homes, but homeownership is a big part of that conversation.
In Spokane, it needs to be a larger part of our conversation as well.
If we think our more modest economy makes us immune to the serious challenges the Puget Sound market faces, we’re being naïve. Taking action ahead of the curve is our only hope of mitigating the path we are on.