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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Jonathan Mallahan: How we can increase affordable housing creation in Spokane

By Jonathan Mallahan Catholic Charities </p><p>Eastern Washington

As more people from Western Washington and around the country move to Spokane, we are running out of affordable housing to rent and own. The massive influx of residents and lack of housing options means there’s more demand – and prices are rising.

A healthy housing market needs to produce at least one new housing unit for each new household formed. Yet here in Spokane County, even before COVID-19, we have only three-quarters of the homes needed. No doubt with the recent influx of new residents we have fallen even further behind.

Catholic Charities Eastern Washington has a long history of community involvement and we’re thankful to be part of a community that is committed to tackling these issues.

Most recently, Catholic Charities collaborated with Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Preparatory School to build Gonzaga Family Haven. This fall, we will be opening our doors to house 73 families who have experienced homelessness. In addition, the property will include on-site wraparound services such as case management, access to primary health care, substance abuse counseling, multimodal transportation systems, personal health and wellness classes, adult education, employment readiness, food preparation and nutrition courses, and more! Gonzaga Family Haven is the 17th tax credit property that Catholic Charities has been awarded and constructed since 2012.

Before any family or individual move forward in their lives, they need a roof over their heads. With more than 1,400 operating units across Eastern Washington, we’ve witnessed first-hand how challenging it can be for residents to find an affordable home.

The lack of affordable housing in our region is a community challenge, and to solve it, we need a community solution. We need state and local policymakers to act. Here are five things we can do in the next year to help spur the creation of affordable housing and keep residents in their homes:

• Create a shared understanding of the need for relief and assistance for our most vulnerable residents. Build on programs that have proven successful such as Volunteers of America, housing vouchers and rental relief funding and allocation.

• Increase annual bond allocation to incentivize the creation of affordable housing. Currently, the state only has the capacity to provide a few allocations a year, which is reducing housing growth.

• Expand Washington’s housing trust fund to provide state funding for new housing units and to allow affordable housing managers to maintain properties at risk of falling off the market due to significant wear and tear beyond what’s covered in the minimum safety deposit.

• Eliminate exclusionary zoning, which limits the ability to site new housing units to a small narrow area of land.

• Fund affordable housing initiatives using local bonds to allocate funds to specific projects or developments. Additionally, to support competitive allocation processes that incentivize efficient projects.

Tackling the affordable housing crisis requires cooperation and partnerships between all stakeholders to help communities address their needs. We need to continue to grow these partnerships and platforms that have a proven success rate to lowering barriers to housing and increasing Washington state’s affordable housing capacity.

Jonathan Mallahan is vice president of Housing at Catholic Charities Eastern Washington, which is a member of the Partnership for Affordable Housing, a coalition focused on increasing housing affordability in Washington state.

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