For 97 poor families at Spokane’s Mt. Vernon Terrace Apartments, rents could soar by $200 a month next year.
Higher up on the South Hill, 58 poor and elderly residents at Regal Village Apartments fear rents will double and force them from their one-bedroom homes.
When dozens of these tenants recently cried out for fairness, they didn’t call their landlords. They wrote to U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.
Perhaps no plank of the federal budget-cutting platform will whack Spokane harder than the proposed housing cuts.
As many as 600 apartments - almost a fifth of the county’s low-income housing stock - could become too expensive for the poor if Congress votes this week to end incentives and subsidies that persuade property owners to offer cheap, federally subsidized housing.
Housing advocates fear ending the so-called low-income housing preservation program will shrink Spokane’s already overwhelmed housing stock by forcing owners to hike rents to maintain profits.
They warn that such action eventually would herd Spokane’s poor to the cheapest stretches of the city, creating slums commonly found in larger cities and forcing many elderly people to move.
Mary Hierath is proud of the trees, shrubs and roses she has planted around her corner Regal Village apartment with a view of Browne Mountain.
“I would hate to move at my age,” said Hierath, 80, who has lived at Regal Village for 24 years.
Her neighbor, Claire Wilks, 91, said moving doesn’t make sense. “I’m too old for this monkey business. I like it here. I don’t want to move.”
Hierath, Wilks and more than 20 other Regal Village tenants wrote Gorton recently, urging him to save the preservation program.
Gorton’s spokeswoman, Heidi Kelly, said the senator supports efforts to “reform” the program but also said he hopes the final version of the complex legislation still will encourage owners to continue working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The goal is to overhaul HUD and ease the federal burden in lodging the poor. The cost has ballooned from $5.5 billion in 1980 to $23.7 billion in 1994.
Much of the housing in HUD’s preservation program was built 20 years ago with enticingly low federally insured interest rates.
As the mortgages have been paid off, Congress has tried to preserve housing for the poor by creating more incentives to keep owners from bailing out of the program and pursuing market rates.
Incentives include tax breaks and low-interest loans.
The preservation program is one of many at HUD, but it is a major one in this area. Budget-cutters say it is too expensive.
Some HUD officials maintain there is no need to panic if the program fades away; evicted tenants will be given vouchers that will help them afford lodging elsewhere.
But Congress’ commitment to funding the vouchers is unclear, as is the popularity the vouchers would have among landlords unaccustomed to doing business with HUD.
One point most everyone concedes is that the voucher system will work far better in cities with fewer preservation programs and more housing options than Spokane has.
Only two states have more housing in the preservation program than Washington. And Spokane’s low-income housing market already is squeezed so tight that Gov. Mike Lowry recently called it the biggest difference between East Side and West Side social problems.
The waiting list for HUD-subsidized housing - where qualified tenants pay up to 30 percent of their income on rent - is 2,000 names long in Spokane.
“Just being uprooted is enough of a difficulty, but if you don’t have any place to go,” what do you do? asked Andy Reid, director of the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium.
Without the ongoing incentives, some Spokane building owners say they will have to raise rents or lose money.
“If the funding is not available, … we will convert the property to market rents,” said Gene Bouma, owner of Regal Village, who urged his tenants to write Gorton. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TARGETED HOMES About 600 of Spokane’s low-income apartment units may become unaffordable for the poor if Congress kills a program that helps keep rents down. Here are some of the apartments in that program: Hillyard Plaza, 2808 E. Sanson - 59 units Pine Villa, 33 E. Graves - 50 units Pines Manor, 512 N. Pines - 50 units Pines Terra, 512 N. Pines - 52 units Regal Arms, 4102 N. Regal - 64 units Regal Village, 3005 E. 53rd - 58 units Mt. Vernon Terrace, 3118 S. Mount Vernon - 99 units Park Towers, 217 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. - 185 units.