The Spokane City Council reviewed its first batch of funding proposals from the American Rescue Plan on Thursday, including requests to support affordable housing projects and child care providers.
The proposals total $13.2 million, a significant first chunk of $81 million the city received through the American Rescue Plan adopted by Congress in March.
Council President Breean Beggs said during a study session the list introduced Thursday was compiled in response to community priorities, including those highlighted during an online survey and recent American Rescue Plan public forums.
No formal decisions were made on Thursday. Instead, the meeting served as a starting point to review potential ways to spend American Rescue Plan money.
The council has received about 130 proposals and begun reviewing them through its three-member American Rescue Plan work group, which sorts through ideas and presents those it favors to the full City Council for review.
After Thursday’s discussion – which saw broad agreement on the funding concepts – the council work group now plans to draft detailed requests for proposals, which still require a vote from the full City Council.
Mayor Nadine Woodward expressed frustration with the process, noting a resolution adopted by the council in September calls on the administration to provide feedback “within five business days.”
But all the administration received were “one-liners,” Woodward told The Spokesman-Review.
“I don’t know how you can make decisions based on the information that’s been provided,” Woodward said.
Beggs said he sent the administration a list of potential items for funding in October, then again last week, and made adjustments based on the administration’s concerns.
As for the lack of detail, Beggs said “our process is that we’re not going to that specificity until we have a general agreement (within City Council) that we’re going forward.”
The biggest ticket item on the council’s list is $6 million to help nonprofits develop affordable housing. The council was given a list of 12 projects by the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium that are already underway but require additional funding to be completed.
The city would aim for these projects to be completed by July 2023.
At this point, the proposal does not identify specific housing projects to receive backing. Rather, the city would issue a request for proposals and solicit responses from housing providers.
Another $2 million proposal would create a program to help first-time home buyers who earn less than 80% of the area median income put a down payment on a home.
Given the current cost of housing, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear questioned how the down payment assistance would be of use for a homebuyer at the required income level.
Beggs noted the city program already exists in pilot form, and it offers a significant down payment to ensure that the homeowner’s monthly payments are affordable.
“It is a model that is currently getting people into housing who otherwise would never be able to,” Beggs said.
Citing community surveys that rank child care high on the list of priorities, the council is also considering offering $1 million to add slots at child care providers.
In another effort to support employment, the council is contemplating spending $1 million to aid workers in the arts sector who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council is also contemplating spending $1.5 million to upgrade park play equipment and bathrooms, particularly those in low-income census tracts.
Kinnear noted the dearth of information included in the proposals.
But members of the American Rescue Plan work group, including Beggs and Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, replied that Thursday’s informational session was to gather feedback from council members before fleshing out a full proposal.
“This is kind of like step one, and then we’ll go on to step two,” Wilkerson said.
The proposals discussed Thursday do not include any money to compensate the city for its own revenue losses during COVID-19. The budget proposed by Woodward estimated that the city lost about $21 million during the pandemic.
The administration plans to apply for funds to compensate the city for its losses through the council’s American Rescue Plan process.
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