Spokane Journal of Business

Grants to help Spokane design more diverse housing

City looks to leverage transit-oriented award

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A 2020 report tagged Washington state with one of the 10 worst housing shortages in the nation, underbuilding by over a quarter of a million homes over the prior 15 years. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies documented the nationwide housing shortage and potential economic impacts in its 2019 State of the Nation’s Housing.

As Washington’s economy boomed, many middle and lower-income people could no longer afford to live in or near the communities where they work. Rising rents are a primary contributor to homelessness and soaring prices have put single-family homes out of reach for many potential homebuyers. In addition, communities today suffer from a so-called “missing middle”—the lack of more diverse options such as duplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, and courtyard buildings that can be more affordable.

To help communities grapple with the growing housing shortage challenge, the Washington State Department of Commerce recently awarded $5.9 million in funding through two new housing and transportation growth-management grant programs, with the city of Spokane receiving a total of $350,000.

Funding will support zoning changes to allow more housing and a greater variety of housing types, and help cities encourage developers to build smaller and more affordable housing.

The Legislature provided the funding for the new grant programs. The programs were designed to encourage cities to prioritize the creation of affordable, inclusive neighborhoods, especially in areas with frequent transit service and other infrastructure that can support increased residential capacity.

The Housing Action Plan and Implementation grants provide funding for cities to develop strategies to meet their housing needs. Commerce awarded $3.5 million to 44 communities to research their housing needs, engage the community in a public process, and identify zoning changes or programs that would encourage private developers to build more housing to meet the needs of residents, including those who work in communities but can’t afford to live there.

The Transit-Oriented Development and Implementation grants provide funding to leverage investments in light rail and bus service. Commerce awarded $2.4 million to 11 cities to review zoning around transit stations and streamline permit processing times for more development in station areas. Transit-oriented development is an efficient way to absorb the state’s expanding population and build high-quality neighborhoods, while minimizing traffic and costly sprawl.

The city of Spokane received the maximum HAPI grant award of $100,000, and the maximum TODI grant of of $250,000.

Spokane is using grant funding to change regulations to allow new types of housing such as accessory dwellings, duplexes, and triplexes in low-density neighborhoods as well as decrease the time it takes to get a building permit. Spokane’s Housing Action Plan also calls for zoning changes around the city’s first bus rapid transit line, the City Line, which will begin operation in 2022. The route will have 7.5-minute headways at peak times and will range from 10 to 15-minutes at off-peak times.

The city plans to leverage investment in civic infrastructure, including bicycle and pedestrian trail improvements and development of a new hub for medical and health education, research, and innovation in the University District. Plans also include a market analysis to help the city better understand overall development potential. They will include anti-displacement considerations and equitable transit-oriented development strategies to preserve and expand affordable housing, protect residents from rising costs, connect people to jobs and economic opportunities, and stabilize and support local businesses.

“Housing continues to be a challenge in every part of our state. Population growth and underbuilding have limited affordable housing options for working families,” says Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “The efforts supported by these grants will strengthen communities as they plan a future with vital, diverse neighborhoods offering good housing options for all.”

Washington state’s land-use planning framework was recently changed via House Bill 1220 to require cities to plan for the affordability of a specific number of homes. Communities planning under the Growth Management Act must plan for construction of a variety of housing types so that everyone can afford a place to live in and near the communities where they work. A countywide framework guides each community in planning to absorb their share of the county’s growth. Communities must also consider the effects of new development on existing residents and plan to reduce displacement when development occurs.

Commerce provides a portal with extensive housing planning resources. Many of the communities awarded HAPI and TODI grants will be building on housing plans adopted this year to meet growing needs they identified through research and community engagement.

Dave Andersen is the Spokane-based director of growth management programs for the Washington State Department of Commerce.

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