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Spokane City Council backs slate of housing incentives to ease affordable housing shortage

Aug. 3, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 3, 2021 at 7:56 p.m.

Demonstrators take to the streets of downtown Spokane during a Humans for Housing march held by Humanizing Spokane on April 24.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Demonstrators take to the streets of downtown Spokane during a Humans for Housing march held by Humanizing Spokane on April 24. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council endorsed a slate of financial incentives for housing developers Monday.

Amid skyrocketing rents and housing prices, the council has outlined policy changes in back-to-back weeks meant to help ease the strain.

Last Monday, the council approved an official Housing Action Plan that included a long list of proposed reforms, including adjusting zoning laws to allow development of more duplexes and triplexes in residential neighborhoods.

This week, the council unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear that largely seeks to rekindle existing programs to spur development in already-dense neighborhoods.

Like last week, the action was symbolic and legally nonbinding. But Kinnear said she would pursue American Rescue Plan funding, through the process the city has established, to fund the incentive programs.

“It falls on the heels of the housing action plan, it’s not the be-all-end-all; it’s one tool we can use,” Kinnear said.

The incentives will apply only to developments that occur within a half-mile of one of the city’s designated “centers and corridors” – which are areas of the city targeted for denser growth – unless the project is an affordable single-family residence in a residential zone.

Kinnear and Councilwoman Candace Mumm argued the existing infrastructure within centers and corridors can support more housing development, and offers residents access to services and public transportation.

“We have a lot of capacity in these centers and corridors that can be used,” Mumm said.

The resolution asks the city to launch the effort for three years, then reevaluate the efficacy of each incentive.

The list of incentives is “meant to target the low-hanging fruit, meaning they’re relatively easy to fund and implement right away,” Kinnear said.

Among its 11 proposals, the resolution endorses a reimbursement of half of the per-lot permit fees of single family subdivisions where at least one-fifth of homes are sold to people earning less than 120% of the area median income.

The council would direct the city to offer a five-year property tax exemption to first-time homebuyers who have lived in Spokane for at least three years.

The council also wants to lean on its $81 million cut of the American Rescue Plan to fund incentives, including fee waivers for utility hookups to vacant or underused buildings that are renovated. American Rescue Plan funds would also be used to replenish the Projects of Citywide Significance program, which offers financial incentives to substantial developments.

“These are all things, with two exceptions, that the city has done before,” Kinnear explained last week.

The resolution also calls for use of American Rescue Plan money to fund projects that increase neighborhood walkability and transportation.

Multiple council members noted the package was only a resolution, and legal details would be worked out in future ordinances.

“The spirit of the resolution is a starting point for us, and yes the devil will be in the ordinance, and we will work all that out. This is just leadership, and thank you, Council Member Kinnear, on behalf of Council and our citizens,” said Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson.

Council President Breean Beggs called on the administration to provide staffing to support the programs.

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