June 2, 1995 in Nation/World

High-Priced Homes Pose Big Dilemma Collective Efforts Favored To Overcome Serious Problem

Rachel Konrad Staff writer

Lenders and housing advocates gathered in Spokane Thursday to discuss a topic more confounding than the federal budget deficit.

How do communities provide affordable housing when the government’s ability to help is diminishing?

According to the state Housing Finance Commission, it’s simple:

Everyone must pitch in.

As Republicans take cuts at the the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget, neighborhood groups and individuals have been told to assume responsibility for building and maintaining low-income homes and housing.

That’s the only way to end cycles of homelessness, said representatives to the HFC’s convention on affordable housing.

State officials agreed, urging developers to form partnerships with government agencies and private charities, and asked lowincome homeowners to apply for federally insured mortgages in conjunction with their private banks.

Barriers to homeownership are prodigious, even for hourly and blue-collar wage earners, said Gail Reynolds of Spokane Neighborhood Action Program.

A worker with a full-time, $5/hour job, for example, grosses $800 per month and can pay about $275 per month in mortgage - enough to buy a $30,000 home. In Spokane County, the average homeowner pays a monthly mortgage of $544 and earns $35,435 annually. The average home price in 1994 was $95,100, according to statistics from the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Representatives from lending institutions and neighborhood action groups statewide agreed that finding a home in the $30,000 range is difficult if not impossible. The problem is acute in the Puget Sound area and Bellingham, and it’s getting worse in Spokane.

“We had a house a couple months ago that sold for $20,000. But that’s not very common at all because the land value here is rising so much,” said Don Walker, communications director for the Spokane Realtors.

Private developers rarely build homes for low-income residents, and they virtually never build low-end apartment complexes, said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

“It’s not cost effective. It’s impossible for private developers to make a profit at the lowest levels of housing developments,” said Murray, a keynote speaker at the HFC convention. The convention, which ends today at Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park, attracted more than 300 lenders, developers and government officials.

Despite the problems with price and availability, perhaps the most insurmountable barrier to affordable housing is ignorance, said Bob Peeler of Spokane Neighborhood Action Program. Giving homeless families the responsibility of homeownership is key to decreasing joblessness and keeping them off the streets, but finding and educating them is tough, he said.

“Numbers are a big problem,” Peeler said during a session on housing the homeless. “How many homeless people are there? How do we reach them in order to help them? It’s a difficult cycle to break.”

, DataTimes

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