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Housing aid needs to go beyond window dressing

Wed., June 27, 2007

I‘m confused.

Tomorrow, there’s a landlord- tenant housing fair set up at the Music City Annex Building on West First Avenue, in an attempt to help the tenants being evicted from the New Madison Apartments.

That’s a great initiative – I don’t remember seeing anything like that in Spokane before. It’s the culmination of a series of meetings at City Hall between real estate folks, social services representatives, charities and business and city leaders.

There’s only one problem: No one knows which landlords are going to be there.

At the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, I talked to Katy Pike.

She knows a lot about www.onestop – a free Web site where local landlords can list available apartments – but she doesn’t know the address for the housing fair, even though she’s listed as contact person. I give it to her.

I spend Monday morning online at looking for studios or one-bedroom apartments. I find nothing downtown. Eventually I locate one apartment close to downtown for $310 a month.

Okay – we’ll have around 60 people looking for housing by mid-July, followed by 40 people from the Commercial Building and possibly 100 more from the Otis. I’m afraid one apartment isn’t enough.

The desperate housing need is demonstrated by the 19,000 searches has seen in the year it’s been available, but there’s not much help there for the folks at the New Madison.

Kathy Mann at VOICES – a group that works to improve low-income residents’ access to opportunity, income, childcare, education and support – is my next call.

She says her organization is calling landlords to try to get them to participate in the housing fair, but she doesn’t know who will show up.

“It’s too hard to find housing for them, and the community they have established there has a lot to do with them not wanting to leave the area,” says Mann of the New Madison tenants.

“They don’t have any money, some have a disability. Just getting boxes and filling them and moving them downstairs can be impossible.”

Next I’m on to Chris Batten of RenCorp – the broker and architect of the condo project that’s going into the New Madison and one of the coordinators of the landlord-tenant fair.

“We put this together last Tuesday,” he says, adding that he’s not sure who’s going to be there, either. “But I’m thinking we should be able to hook some people up.” He says the Inland Northwest Rental Association has been invited, and he knows that Kiemle & Hagood Co. will be there.

RenCorp has no vacancies in other parts of town that would fit the need.

So here I am with all my resources: a computer and an Internet connection at my fingertips, two phone lines, an expansive archive, a full stomach – and I’m still not sure what’s going on Thursday.

If I were living in the New Madison with a disability and a limited income, what on earth would I know?

Please, someone tell me this landlord-tenant fair isn’t just spin – I don’t want it to be.

City Council President Joe Shogan does his best to put my mind at ease.

The meetings at City Hall have included stakeholders, from HUD to the Department of Corrections to local real estate owners to social services.

“You couldn’t ask for a better group of varied backgrounds to try and come up with a solution,” Shogan says. OK. True. That’s good. But do we have a plan yet?

A smaller task force will be appointed to work on a long-range plan, says Shogan. “We know this will happen again, we need a long-range plan.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So I ask when the next joint meeting is scheduled – and I find that it’s not.

“I guess we had this landlord-tenant housing fair be the next meeting,” says Shogan.

There’s a heck of a lot riding on this meeting tomorrow afternoon.

I sincerely hope I will not have to write another column about how this was just a show put on to make the rest of us feel better while the low-income population shuffles onto the streets.

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