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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Housing shortage looms on Spokane’s West Plains

Amazon’s fulfillment center west of Spokane, shown under construction on Nov. 2, 2018, is expected to open next fall with 1,500 employees. The center is part of an expected employment boom that civic leaders believe will create a housing shortage on the West Plains. (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Job growth will bring thousands of new residents to the West Plains over the next two years. Finding places for them to live will be a challenge.

Civic leaders grappled with projected housing shortages Wednesday at the West Plains Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Rising rents and escalating home prices already are a reality in the communities of Airway Heights, Cheney and Medical Lake, speakers said. Several major job announcements, while exciting for the local economy, will increase pressure on limited stocks of affordable housing, they said.

“We’re in a scary situation as far as housing is concerned,” said Joel White, executive officer for the Spokane Home Builders Association. “We may not be able to meet this new demand.”

Amazon’s fulfillment center west of Spokane is expected to open next fall with 1,500 employees, and its workforce could grow in the future.

Fairchild Air Force Base’s employment will increase as the result of more KC-135 Stratotankers being assigned to the base. Active duty airmen moving to the area with their families will bring about 1,000 new residents to the area by 2020. Since housing at Fairchild is limited, they’ll be looking for places to live off base.

Other companies are expected to locate around Amazon, creating anticipation that other job announcements will be forthcoming.

As part of its growth management planning two years ago, Spokane County projected the West Plains would add about 10,000 residents by 2037. But a significant part of that population growth could occur within the next 18 months, White said.

Communities in the West Plains already are feeling the pressure.

Airway Heights is experiencing “gentrification” as people compete for housing in the community of 9,085, said Albert Tripp, city manager. The city used to be known for its affordability, but rents are outpacing wages, vacancy rates for rentals are at less than 1 percent and prices for single-family homes are shooting up, he said.

The median price for a single-family home in Airway Heights rose from $183,000 in 2017 to $201,000 this year, Tripp said.

“It’s slim pickings out there,” said Chelsea McFarland, a broker for Prime Real Estate Group in Spokane.

She looked at the number of homes for sale on the West Plains priced at less than $500,000. There were 132 homes, including ones with pending offers. When McFarland whittled the criteria down to homes priced at $300,000 or less, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a garage, the number dipped to 30.

The West Plains has some development challenges, including building restrictions near Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base, the speakers said. High levels of clay in the soil also pose challenges for developers.

Construction of single-family homes on the West Plains has stayed steady at about 250 per year. Builders said they’ll be looking to communities to increase the amount of land available for residential development.

Smaller homes in denser developments might solve part of the problem, Tripp said. Airway Heights expects demand to diminish for the traditional four-bedroom, single-family home with 2,000 square feet.

“Over the next 10 years, we expect to see baby boomers and millennials looking for multifamily (options) and town houses,” he said.