Spokane now has a roadmap for creating more affordable housing, rehabilitating problem properties and helping the city develop diverse neighborhoods.
Mayor David Condon’s task force on housing quality presented a draft report Wednesday with recommendations for ensuring the city has a range of quality housing options available as it continues to grow.
The report comes as Spokane is facing a hot real estate market and historically low rental vacancy rates, both of which have advocates concerned about options for low-income people seeking places to live. Spokane is also home to about 1,400 abandoned properties, many of which have been foreclosed on.
“When we talk about being the city of choice, it really is where somebody lives,” Condon said.
The task force’s suggestions range from relatively straightforward proposals, such as creating a minimum housing quality standard, to more complex ideas like starting a community land bank which could acquire, hold and sell vacant and distressed properties.
The group included input from real estate brokers, landlords, tenant advocacy groups, banks, neighborhood councils, the Spokane Regional Health District and multiple city departments.
Other suggestions include creating a registry of affordable housing and studying additional incentives and fee waivers to support affordable housing development.
Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who is a member of the task force, said the city council is unlikely to craft new legislation immediately in response to the report. Many of the recommendations will require input from community members about how standards should be structured and enforced.
“That conversation’s going to take a little while,” she said.
The task force recommended creating an acquisition program where the city buys foreclosed properties and sells them to buyers who can rehabilitate them. A similar strategy was used to rehabilitate a former West Central drug nuisance house earlier this year.
“It just takes one or two houses in the neighborhood to be chronic nuisance, abandoned, to lower everyone’s property values,” said Loretta Cael, the housing counseling program manager at Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, who presented the recommendations.
Waldref said the council is also planning to advocate for state legislation on foreclosures during the upcoming legislative session. She said she’d like to see tighter timelines to resolve foreclosures on so-called “zombie properties,” where distressed homeowners move out, but banks fail to finalize the foreclosure proceedings.
“We’re responding to these properties. We’re taking time and energy to deal with them and we’re not generating many property taxes from them,” she said.
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