From her chair as executive director of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium (SLIHC), Kay Murano has a birds-eye view of the area’s ongoing affordable housing shortage.
“The need is great,” Murano said. “The situation is pricing people out of Spokane. They’re going in multiple directions.”
For some people, that direction points to the street.
“Homelessness in our community has become more obvious and more public,” Murano said. “If you had more funding, you could build more homes and if you had more housing, you’d have fewer people on the street.”
With a vacancy rate still hovering around 1 percent in Greater Spokane, Murano said it’s not uncommon “for it to take six to eight months for people to find somewhere to live.”
“It’s extremely challenging right now,” she said.
Murano will be in Olympia this month, advocating for legislation that would open the doors to accessible housing for more Washingtonians. Going into the 2019 legislative session, the prospects look encouraging. Republicans are expected to introduce nearly 20 bills designed to “help reduce homelessness in the state.”
Another hopeful development included the Senate establishing the first-ever, dedicated housing committee. Murano said she sees the Senate committee “taking a statewide look at what to do about what is clearly a housing crisis.”
According to the 2018 Washington State Health Assessment from the Department of Health, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Washington has increased steadily since 2013.
Last month, a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated that Washington has the fifth highest rate of homelessness in the nation with over 22,300 residents classified as homeless, a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year.
The Regional Point in Time Count last January reported 1,245 homeless people in Spokane County with around 85 percent living in the city of Spokane.
SNAP continues to do its part to help provide remedies to the housing crisis. In 2017, the agency transitioned 448 people from homelessness to permanent housing and provided 1,909 assessments to connect people with housing resources.
“We are acutely aware of the importance of housing in SNAP’s mission to help our neighbors achieve their human potential,” said SNAP CEO Julie Honekamp. “Having a safe, secure and affordable place to live is really the cornerstone of that effort.”
Among the legislation expected to be proposed in Olympia this session includes a bill that would feature a property tax valuation freeze and property tax exemption for veterans with disabilities, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities under certain circumstances. Another bill focuses on increased flexibility around land use, including an option for counties to opt out of the Growth Management Act if they are “suffering economically.” Yet another bill would loosen the regulations for tiny homes.
The push for accessible housing has been on the uptick in Olympia the past two years. A total of 28 bills related to “homeless persons” were passed by the legislature during the 2017 and 2018 sessions.
Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican who represents the 4th District in Spokane County, said he would like to see certain restrictions lifted on condominium development.
“Changes made in 2009 to the state’s Condominium Act were aimed at providing consumer protection, unfortunately they ended up creating an insurmountable barrier to new condominium construction,” Padden said. “At a time when many communities are facing a shortage of affordable housing, policies that get in the way of increasing the housing supply make absolutely no sense. The law needs to be changed in the 2019 legislative session.”
As Murano makes her point with legislators in Olympia, she is hopeful that affordable housing will be a clear priority.
“It’s encouraging to me that everyone is paying attention to this problem and willing to do something about it,” Murano said. “Now we just need all the pieces to come together.”