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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Real estate experts release report on Spokane’s housing density

A group of houses being built by Hayden Homes are shown on Sept. 10 in Spokane Valley. A group of real estate consultants released a report Monday that provides solutions to meet housing demand in Spokane County.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane County’s growing housing demand could be met by increasing density, creating mixed-use neighborhoods and changing zoning regulations to boost land availability, according to a study released Monday.

The Counselors of Real Estate’s CRE Consulting Corps released its findings after studying Spokane’s housing shortage.

The group analyzed the county’s housing and population statistics, in addition to interviewing area policymakers, developers, builders and civic leaders to compile the report.

“We perceive there’s a lot of agreement in all areas of Spokane about the fact that you need housing,” said Jackie Buhn, team leader with the Counselors of Real Estate. “There’s different viewpoints of when and where and how.”

“But I think the community is, in many ways, united about the fact that there is more need, and that’s important because that will get you rolling in the right direction,” she added.

Recommendations in the team’s report included a regional update to zoning codes to allow for more infill development and a variety of housing types; collaboration with community groups to create a vision for their neighborhoods; and revising local codes to allow more density.

“We did notice that Spokane is a city of single-family houses,” Buhn said. “That’s very predominant and there are opportunities for other housing styles, where you still have your own front door. We weren’t seeing much of that and we’d like to see more.”

Paige Mueller, managing director of San Francisco-based real estate consulting firm Eigen 10 Advisors, said building a greater mix of housing types in the county was a primary focus in the study because it provides affordable options for those entering the housing market, especially young families.

In Spokane, median household income has not kept up with rising home prices.

The median household income in the county was $56,904 in 2019, which is the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The median home price in Spokane County was $375,000 in November, according to the Spokane Association of Realtors.

The group noted that cottages and developments such as Kendall Yards are desirable options for creating vibrant communities.

The team found land supply could be more abundant under policies to allow more density and infill development. However, it will require public and private sector collaboration on zoning procedures.

“It’s a little more complicated to build in an area where there’s already some structure,” Buhn said. “But if the city can help make it workable and make it reasonably profitable for a developer to go in there and build – they’re going to be there and they’ll build.

“Right now, it’s almost impossible because of the lot sizes and some of the (planned unit development) regulations,” Buhn continued. “There’s a lot of land inside the city and it needs to be made available by changing the legal constraints.”

Stan Sidor, senior vice president of Kidder Matthews’ Tacoma branch, agreed, saying that it is challenging to build a variety of housing types under current rules pertaining to condominium development and the Growth Management Act.

“I think a lot of that is going to have to come down from the state level of any changes that you try to make,” he said. “Work with your state legislators and let them know how important it is to try to get some more flexibility with the Growth Management Act.”

Sharon Madison, CEO of Detroit-based real estate-investment firm Madison Madison International, said increasing staffing at the city’s building and planning department is imperative to constructing more housing.

“That’s a really critical thing – to have leadership – and also to have people that are able to take these changes or recommendations and make them a reality,” she said.

The Counselors of Real Estate is an international organization of real estate experts. Its goal is to develop an unbiased, objective review of demographic and housing data, examine barriers to development and present solutions to create housing options in cities nationwide.

The team compiled the report on a voluntary basis in collaboration with The Spokane Association of Realtors, Washington Realtors and The Spokane Home Builders Association. The group released a preliminary report of its findings in October.

Darin Watkins, SAR’s government affairs director, said the report’s findings show an urgency for conversations about housing needs to occur at a regional level.

“I think our next step is to lean into our leaders and say, ‘We need to have a conversation.’ It needs to be a regional approach … we don’t want this study to fall by the wayside,” Watkins said. “Our plan is to use this as a guide to start the conversation.”