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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Ben Stuckart: Mayoral election about ‘type of community we want’

Ben Stuckart

Let’s get something straight, Spokane is a great city. Over the last eight years I have seen what we can do as a community, working together. Hundreds of streets have been paved, crime has decreased by 15% this year, we have successfully been revitalizing our neighborhoods, and we are celebrating a new Riverfront Park for everyone to enjoy.

At the recent homeless coalition forum, I met Linda who shared her story. At age 67, she lived in a low-income apartment. A developer purchased the building and gave the residents 60 days to vacate, with no assistance. She faced her greatest fear, homelessness and lack of available housing.

Many of us, and our neighbors, are experiencing the same fears and struggles. According to the United Way, 45% of the residents of Spokane live paycheck-to-paycheck. Almost half of our community members are employed but are one unexpected expense away from being homeless.

Sadly, our community has not built one unit of subsidized housing for the growing population of citizens aged 55 and older. We have 800 community members unable to use housing vouchers due to the housing shortage.

My mother was a schoolteacher and later a vice principal in charge of discipline. She had to discipline a little guy, Mikey, who was misbehaving, and nothing was working. One day she fed him. He improved. She learned quickly that the most important intervention was providing food. Until someone has their basic needs met, no amount of tough love, jail time or forced rehab is going to change their behavior.

Your City Council members have not been ignoring this issue. Our approach is to provide someone a roof over their head, food and human connections first, before trying to meet higher needs.

In the short-term, we have been working hard to secure more shelter beds. Shelters need to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We must have case management in shelters to connect our community members to addiction services, mental health counseling and permanent housing. Data shows that case management, connecting people to resources, is how we make a real difference.

This election is about the type of community we want. Do we want to build upon our vibrant urban community with strong neighborhoods, or do we want to sprawl out? We cannot do both. My opponent has stated she might use city resources to encourage new developments outside the city’s borders (Spokesman-Review, July 21, 2019). We can either invest in our neighborhoods and business centers, or we can invest in sprawl. We cannot do both without significantly increasing costs that we will all have to pay.

I am running for mayor to build on the many great successes our community has had in the last eight years. I am proud of the leadership I provided that led to the Targeted Investment Pilot Program on Sprague Avenue. This program has resulted in new, healthy businesses, a decrease in crime, and rising property values, all while keeping the fabric of the neighborhood intact. Working together with many community partners we have strengthened our neighborhoods.

We must continue to actively invest in our neighborhood centers throughout Spokane. We can invest in walkable business centers and surround them with density. This density does many good things:

Increases public safety. Eyes on the street are the best crime prevention.

Strengthens the tax base without raising taxes. The more people we have living in Spokane the more we are able to collectively pool resources.

Creates community when we interact in walkable environments.

Attacks the root cause of rising rents by increasing the supply of housing.

Public safety is a huge concern of everyone. I am proud of my leadership in working with the council in fighting for the public safety levy. It was an uphill battle against the wishes of the mayor, this newspaper and my opponent – but the citizens voted by over 60% to put 20 officers on the street in 2020.

Don’t let outsiders, and those not fighting hard to preserve and invest in our unique and strong neighborhoods, make you believe that Spokane is not a great city and a safe place to raise kids and grandkids.

Let me be very clear, experts looking at solid data know that the top three reasons people become homeless are family issues, lack of income and lack of housing.

We must provide safe shelters, first, so we can work on all the other issues together. Throwing those in our community who are struggling in an already overcrowded jail is not a solution, and it is not who we are as a community.

City Council President Ben Stuckart is running for Spokane mayor.

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