In 1990, the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium was created to alleviate homelessness in Spokane by developing affordable housing. The consortium celebrates its 20th anniversary on Tuesday during an 11:30 a.m. event at the Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Lincoln St. Last week, the Spokesman-Review interviewed Cindy Algeo, the consortium’s executive director for nearly six years, about local efforts to end homelessness and her organization’s role in that struggle.
Q. What are some of the consortium’s major accomplishments in the past 20 years?
A. When the consortium was formed there were only 10 founding members who collectively owned only 77 low-cost rental units. Since then, membership has expanded to over 40, and SLIHC members have developed more than 3,000 affordable rental homes and provided over 2,000 homeownership opportunities for people of low income.
Q. How has the current economic downturn changed your mission?
A. There is simply less money for development. Things are looking a little bit better, but it’s still very slow. In 2009 the whole community developed well over 400 affordable rentals. In 2010, only about 150 units will come on line, which reflects the lack of public funding for housing development.
SLIHC is looking forward to when the Washington State Housing Trust fund is more robust once again, and it’s easier to secure investors in the low-income housing tax credit program.
These funding programs are critical for communities like Spokane County that have difficulty in establishing local funding mechanisms to support affordable housing.
Recently the consortium received substantial grant money from the Campion Foundation to help the community explore and establish two new ways to end homelessness: centralized intake and rapid re-housing, both requiring major shifts in how homelessness has been addressed in the past.
These two new strategies are resulting in more efficient service to homeless individuals and families, reducing duplication of services, quickly moving people into permanent rental homes, and helping organizations to better track and report client and agency outcomes.
Q. Does Spokane continue to have a low-income housing crisis?
A. The vacancy rate for affordable housing has improved from 2 percent in 2007, when downtown redevelopment resulted in the displacement of more than 150 low-income apartment residents.
But on any given day there are still more than 1,200 homeless persons in Spokane County. Our community is stronger and healthier when everyone has a home.
Q. What challenges does the consortium face in the future?
A. In 2008, SLIHC conducted a survey of registered voters in Spokane County. More than 50 percent of respondents knew of someone experiencing difficulty paying their mortgage or rent. They stated that they thought local government should support affordable housing, but they did not favor increased fees or taxes. So while the public knows there is a problem that needs to be addressed, the challenge is how are we going to pay for it?