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‘It’s a blueprint’: Spokane City Councilwoman offers her own strategy for addressing housing, homelessness

UPDATED: Wed., June 23, 2021

Spokane City Council District 2 candidate Lori Kinnear answers questions from Spokesman-Review reporters Adam Shanks and Rebecca White during the Northwest Passages Community Forum Pints & Politics with School Board and City Council Candidates at Cracker Building Thurs., Oct. 3, 2019.   (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Council District 2 candidate Lori Kinnear answers questions from Spokesman-Review reporters Adam Shanks and Rebecca White during the Northwest Passages Community Forum Pints & Politics with School Board and City Council Candidates at Cracker Building Thurs., Oct. 3, 2019.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear lamented the absence of a comprehensive strategy to address the city of Spokane’s dual housing and homelessness crises.

So she wrote one herself.

Kinnear hopes to win her colleagues’ approval Monday on a resolution that would outline the city’s game plan to meet its housing and homelessness needs.

“It’s a blueprint for (the administration) to follow, because right now I don’t feel that we have a plan. We have a set of tasks, and we go from season to season scrambling trying to do things for homeless outreach and homeless safety,” Kinnear said.

The three-page plan is not deeply prescriptive, but it does suggest a number of steps for the city to take. And, Kinnear told The Spokesman-Review, it’s drafted in a way that’s intentionally flexible.

“It’s not meant to be a Bible, it’s meant to be a guide,” Kinnear said.

The plan implores the city to respond to the issues of housing and homelessness in collaboration with a number of different agencies and partners, including governments that neighbor the city of Spokane.

“It’s not enough to have the city of (Spokane) Valley say we’ll put in some money for a shelter in Browne’s Addition. That’s not what we’re after,” Kinnear said. “We’re after decentralizing some of these services so people aren’t concentrated downtown, concentrated in Spokane.”

That’s a concept Mayor Nadine Woodward can get behind. She told The Spokesman-Review that’s exactly the type of work she’s focused on when bringing together leaders of Spokane County and Spokane Valley to discuss homelessness.

“I’m glad she supports that,” Woodward said.

Kinnear’s strategy backs the Fifth Avenue Initiative, a community development effort to revitalize East Central. It also advocates for the creation of a “smart growth initiative,” which would look to increase access to affordable housing and services while protecting people from displacement as the city grows.

The resolution also seeks more – and more regularly updated – information that will help guide city policy.

It asks for an annual Spokane Housing Report that would document trends in the city’s housing market, including an inventory of underdeveloped land that could be useful for potential developers.

The regional Continuum of Care Board, which helps administer funds for homeless services, should provide the city with a quarterly update on its five-year plan to end homelessness, according to the resolution.

It also asks that the city regularly review the impediments people face in obtaining housing, last documented in a 2019 report.

The resolution also tries to set a template for spending the revenue garnered by a new one-tenth-of-1% sales tax adopted by the City Council last year, which is expected to bring in about $5.8 million annually that is earmarked for affordable housing initiatives.

Kinnear’s proposal is to dedicate one-quarter of the revenue each year to incentivizing workforce single-family housing, developing multifamily housing for income-restricted families, supporting mental health and homeless services, and paying for Spokane’s homeless shelters.

The resolution also calls for revenue from the West Quadrant TIF, a district that encompasses and captures property taxes in West Central, to be used in the development of affordable housing.

It’s important to address housing and homelessness simultaneously because of the ways in which they’re innately intertwined, Kinnear argued. For people to exit homelessness, there needs to be adequate transitional and long-term affordable housing. There needs to be substantial and available mental health and substance abuse treatment services.

“Without those, you’re not going to move,” Kinnear said.

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