After two years of searching for a new place to live, Bek Leech has given up on going home to Cheney.
Leech, her spouse and their 3-year-old daughter lost their student housing at EWU after a domestic violence incident and have not had a stable home since. Leech has been in a shelter with her young daughter, lived with another couple before leaving due to domestic violence and later stayed in a treatment center after she attempted to take her own life.
The family, now sheltered in a Family Promise program, is together for the first time since they became homeless. Leech, who is hoping to keep her daughter in the school she has been attending, said they have been searching for months for affordable housing in Cheney or for a landlord who is willing to understand their circumstances.
“It’s not by choice that people end up in homelessness,” she said, “Everybody has a black mark, and sometimes when I drop off my application I ask or wonder if they are one paycheck away from homelessness.”
Her family has been staying in Family Promise’s Bridges program for the last several months. That program offers up to three families a place to stay in one of about a dozen churches that have volunteered, on a rotating basis, to host them while they look for housing.
While families usually stay for between a few weeks and a few months, Family Promise Director Joe Ader said finding housing is becoming much more difficult than in the past, and many families are staying in the program longer than ever before.
Susan Heitstuman, director of Bridges, said many families try to find housing near their children’s school to maintain a sense of stability, but if they’re from one of the smaller towns outside of the city of Spokane or are from a rapidly growing area, they likely won’t be able to return to the same community.
“It’s a boom and it’s great, but there’s always consequences to a great market,” Heitstuman said.
About two-thirds of families in Bridges are from Spokane, and most of the rest are from elsewhere in the greater Spokane County area, she said.
Many families from rapidly growing communities like Deer Park or Mead spend months looking for affordable housing or for a complex where they can use a Section 8 housing voucher in the neighborhoods where they once lived. Parents often are forced to switch schools or to transport their children across town themselves the next school year because they have been priced out of their neighborhoods.
According to data from the Spokane Housing Authority, more than 75% of Section 8 Housing vouchers were used in Spokane ZIP codes and about 15% of housing vouchers were used in Spokane Valley.
The most common ZIP code for housing acquired through a voucher was 99201, which includes the West Central, Kendall Yards and Browne’s Addition neighborhoods. That ZIP code accounts for more than 15% of housing vouchers used in the county.
This year was the first time since 2008 that new construction permit values totaled more than $1 billion in Spokane County.
According to data provided by the Spokane County Assessor’s office, assessed value for all types of housing has increased over the last year, and apartment assessed value has increased by double digits in Airway Heights, Deer Park, Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Spokane County Assessor Tom Konis said housing prices likely won’t go down anytime soon with the coming influx of airmen to Fairchild Airforce Base, Amazon employees and other new businesses moving into the region.
“People are moving here, they just are, and it’s going to get worse,” he said.
Over the last five years, the average stay in Bridges has hovered between 60 and 84 days. In November, the average was more than 90 days. Heitstuman said the completion of an affordable housing complex usually breaks that pattern, but once the new complex is full, people are back to monthslong searches for a home they can afford.
“I’m not saying growth is horrible. Growth is great, and there’s growing pains, that’s what we’re seeing with families,” Heitstuman said.
In the last year, about 61% of people with housing vouchers were able to find a new home in 30 days, and almost 13% take more than 90 days.
Pam Tietz, executive director for the Spokane Housing Authority, said those searches are more successful when people work with organizations like Family Promise. People are twice as likely to find a suitable place to live before their voucher expires if they have the help of a landlord liaison or a case manager she said.
While several families that were in Bridges this fall just found housing in the last month, Leech is still searching for a new home.
She said now that she’s found a stable place at Bridges, has a case manager through the housing authority and her family’s together, she has hope. Her new goal is to find housing by Christmas.