Take it from Cupid Alexander, who finished his final day of work for the city of Portland last Thursday and moved to Spokane the same night: The rental market here is tight.
But unlike a typical tenant, Alexander will arrive in Spokane with an influence on the city’s response to its chronic housing woes and ongoing effort to mitigate homelessness.
Alexander takes the reins of the city’s new Neighborhoods, Housing, and Human Services division at a time when, despite an economy roiled by the coronavirus, vacancy rates in rental units remain low and the price of a new home in Spokane County paces ever upward.
“This is a beautiful city, no wonder it’s tight, people want to be here,” Alexander said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review last week, days before he started the job on Monday.
As the head of a new division, the city will lean on Alexander to navigate the inevitable conflicts that arise in responding to housing issues, such as those between a new homeless shelter and its neighboring businesses, or developers of high-density housing and the single-family homeowners a block away.
“I actually look forward to that, because an engaged citizenry shows that a city is trying to grapple with these hard issues,” Alexander said. “I don’t shy away from those things.”
Alexander arrives in Spokane with a lengthy resume.
His career has focused on housing and community development, most recently working as an adviser to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Previously, he was a senior policy analyst for the Portland Housing Bureau and a shelter care administrator for the Department of Housing Services for Washington County, Oregon.
Now, Alexander will take on a new role in Spokane under Mayor Nadine Woodward.
“It was a great opportunity for the type of work that I have invested my career in, for the ability to continue to serve citizens of the Northwest,” Alexander said.
A Pacific Northwest native, Alexander will help lead the city’s efforts to increase housing availability and oversee the departments responsible for providing services to people without housing.
The director also will engage with neighborhoods and take charge of quality-of-life services, such as the MySpokane 311 information system.
The new division was created by the split of the Neighborhood and Business Services division, a plan approved by the City Council earlier this year.
In addition to the NHHS division, the split also created the Community and Economic Development division. It will search for a new leader for the economic development position in 2021, along with a permanent city administrator.
Alexander not only brings expertise in his field, but experience in engaging directly with the community, said city spokesman Brian Coddington. The fact that Alexander is not from Spokane did not win him the job alone, but Coddington noted “sometimes it’s good to have a little different perspective, a different point of view.”
Portland, like Spokane, has challenges in its housing market.
“At the end of the day the thing that unites us – the cost of housing is outpacing the amount of income individuals have,” Alexander said. “We’re trying to figure out ways that we can increase availability of affordable units.”
Government can intervene and adopt policies to help lower the cost of housing, but “you have to be very frugal, smart and directed on these investments,” he said.
Still, while their challenges are similar, policies implemented in Portland may not necessarily be effective or a good fit for Spokane, according to Alexander.
The new division leader does not believe his role is to champion a single policy, but to provide Woodward and the City Council with a menu of options and then work to implement what they agree is the best path forward.
The city’s warming center and shelter services for this winter will require his immediate attention.
The warming center on Cannon Street is scheduled to open this week, and the city and Spokane County continue to fund an expanded shelter network to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Indoor shelter space is going to be needed and it’s going to be complicated, because proximity is the transmission mechanism for COVID-19,” Alexander said.
Alexander also has experience meeting the needs of downtown business owners and mitigating the visibility of homelessness, he noted. In Portland, he was charged by the mayor with downtown graffiti removal, cleanup and facilitation of an economic resurgence.
Alexander will also work as something as a liaison between city neighborhoods and the administration. It’s work that he looks forward to, he said.
“I might not agree with everyone, but I’m constantly looking for ways we can work together on things we do,” Alexander said.
Alexander was also enticed to Spokane by the tight working relationship between the City Council and Woodward’s office, a bond developed by City Council President Breean Beggs and Woodward throughout 2020, the first year at their respective posts.
Though not from Spokane, Alexander is a native of the Pacific Northwest and expects to feel at home here.
“The people in Spokane are, or are along the lines, of the people I grew up with, very blue collar, very hard working,” Alexander said.
Adam Shanks can be reached at (509) 459-5136 or email@example.com
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