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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Edie Rice-Sauer: HB1590 will allow us to build more affordable senior housing.

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 19, 2020

By Edie Rice-Sauer

It’s not often that something comes around that makes so much sense, we wonder why we didn’t think of it before.

Let’s talk about HB1590, a statewide housing option, which Spokane can take advantage of that would truly impact our affordable housing shortage.

As we all know, we are in a housing crisis. People in Spokane need to make at least $17 an hour just to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Minimum wage is $13.50. At even $17 an hour, a person would need to be working 1.5 jobs to afford an apartment. And with COVID, things are even worse. The national Low Income Housing Alliance reports that Washington state is in need of over 153,000 affordable units.

We have to be building more affordable housing. It’s a complicated process. Our nonprofit knows. Transitions did it once, and it’s myriad regulations and funding sources. But HB1590 could really help Spokane. This past year, the Washington State Legislature made HB1590 a reality, championed by local legislators and the city of Spokane. The Legislature voted to allow local jurisdictions to implement a 0.1% sales tax that would bring local dollars to the affordable housing arena.

In October, the Spokane City Council can pass this local housing levy and it will increase our sales tax for a Spokane resident by $16 a year on average. With this approval, we could build 100 new units each year. Imagine the impact. Finding an apartment is truly a journey in fruition for many. Even if a family has a housing voucher from the Spokane Housing Authority, there just aren’t enough units out there. Many affordable housing not-for-profits have worked tirelessly to develop units. These organizations, such as Catholic Charities, Spokane Housing Ventures, Community Frameworks, VOA and Transitions scratch every surface to find dollars. But this option of 1590 would really impact the pot, and impact our community in a positive way.

We applaud the city of Spokane for taking a more proactive approach on shelters in 2020 but in order to move out of a shelter, you need somewhere to go. Affordable housing is a necessity to stabilize people. Housing is a well-known social determinant of health and without it you are guaranteed to cost society much more.

Affordable housing does not just mean large Soviet-style cement apartments. Affordable housing can mean small houses, cottages, nice-looking apartments and everything in between.

Affordable housing must include opportunities for ownership. How do you escape generational poverty? By building wealth. Home ownership is a quick way to build wealth. HB1590 will allow Spokane the opportunity to be creative and develop our town in the Spokane way, not dictated by funding requirements of the state or federal governments. Spokane is overrepresented by communities of color that rent versus own. By allowing more opportunities for ownership, we can use housing as a tool to confront structural racism. We can attack poverty and racism at the same time.

And as our senior populations only increases, these units are more critical.

In the past seven years, no senior low-income housing has been built. We must address this now. Your grandparents and parents deserve options to stay in the neighborhood but downsize.

HB1590 will allow us to build more affordable senior housing.

We have to pass this levy. Bellingham, Vancouver, Ellensburg, Olympia, Seattle and Port Angeles have already done it in the state. Now is Spokane’s turn. We love our city and want to see it be a safe, lovely place in which all of our citizens can live.

Edie Rice-Sauer is executive director of mission and services at Transitions and board chair of the Spokane Low Income Housing Alliance.

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