Spokane’s housing crisis has shocked renters looking to buy homes and homeowners looking to relocate. Prices have skyrocketed and when homes do go up for sale, or apartments become available, they get snapped up quickly.
For Spokane’s communities of color, the housing crisis seems even more pronounced, and on Thursday night the Spokane YWCA dedicated its annual Stand Up to Racism program to the racial disparities that exist within the housing crisis.
Because Stand Against Racism is recognized nationwide, YWCA’s local branches tailor the events to their communities. Jeanette Hauck, CEO of YWCA Spokane, said highlighting Spokane’s housing crisis was an easy decision for YWCA’s board. April is also National Fair Housing Month.
“Our committee selected housing issues and the racial disparities in housing in Spokane,” Hauck said. “We really chose it from a community stand point which starts with the community to make sure everyone’s voices are heard.”
The panel discussion, moderated by real estate investor Chauncey Jones, featured Terri Anderson, community organizer for the Tenants Union of Washington, and Stephaine Courtney, who runs the Learning Project, which creates content to help make social justice changes to benefit children, families and communities.
“They really spoke to the topic well, they brought new information for some people and reinforced a lot of widely held knowledge that are in some of the disparities that are existing in Spokane, and they got opportunity to speak to those specifically,” Hauck said.
Discussions around housing equity go beyond the historical practice of redlining, which relegated Black residents to poor, segregated neighborhoods because banks wouldn’t loan them money to live elsewhere. Language around redlining has changed, however – single family zoning is now a practice that is just as damaging for equitable housing in Spokane, Anderson said. The cost of homeownership was risen by 89% in Spokane, she added. In March, the median price for a home in Spokane County soared to record high, $429,998, the Spokane Association of Realtors reported. Racial disparities are one of the strong contrasts between those who rent and own in Spokane, including landlords and tenants, Anderson said.
Anderson helped establish a local chapter of the tenants union in 2013 when rent began to rise in the United States. According to a study done by the Northwest Housing Alliances, 70% of Black, Indigenous and other people of color in Spokane are renters, compared to 30% of their white counterparts.
There is a 20-year gap in life expectancy between residents of the South Hill, home to Spokane’s richest neighborhoods, and those who live in Hillyard and West Central, the city’s poorest areas.
Spokane is also at a near-zero vacancy rate, raising issues around availability of housing for those experiencing eviction. This prompted Courtney to raise awareness around a neighborhood’s cultural assets, including community centers and services that could potentially sustain neighborhoods. Anderson agreed, highlighting that Spokane’s housing availability does not accommodate intergenerational families, a living practice commonly seen in families of color.
Courtney spoke from the angle of motherhood and demanded that the community provide basic needs from “the conception of life.”
“We have to go back to the very beginning and ask ourselves, ‘If that single dad comes in and needs some help, how are we supporting them and not just through services?’ ” Courtney said. “Is it our culture to say that support is the number one topic, the number one place that our community, our city is valuing?”
Anderson discussed how housing effects the practice of democracy with the act of mail-in ballots and voter registration forms. Revoking the right to housing, Anderson said, complicates a citizen’s ability to “ensure their voice in democracy.” She also highlighted the relationships between landlord and tenants.
“Who wants to rock the boat with your landlord if the result might be that you’re going to get a notice that you’re going to have to move?” Anderson said. “And when there’s no place to move to, any kind of a notice is a notice that you could be homeless in any number of days.”
Anderson discussed the legislative ins-and-outs of housing rights. She said some homeowners and landlords in Spokane are looking to appeal the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which outlawed discrimination around “the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex.”
She clarified that the rent control conversation is a state decision and out of city jurisdiction. There is also a trust fund available for those late or behind on their rent.
Both Anderson and Courtney provided a diverse look at Spokane’s housing crisis, which helped relate to the diverse audience at the event.
“It’s the only way it’s going to work,” Jones said. “But when becomes ‘us’ and that’s much more of a powerful movement and that’s what it’s going to take, ‘we’ instead of just one person. When the whole village does it, we can put forth those changes we want to see.”
Anderson also brought a call to action from the tenant’s union, which specifies demands around enacting a fair chance housing ordinance that bans criminal background questions and advocates for universal rental applications.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 8, 2023, to correct the spelling of Stephaine Courtney’s name.