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Affordable housing, child care and arts: Spokane City Council dips into American Rescue Plan funds

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 4, 2022

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The first portion of Spokane’s American Rescue Plan spending will be primarily dedicated to addressing the city’s housing crisis.

The Spokane City Council approved the use of $13.7 million from its tranche of $81 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding on Monday, including $6 million to support affordable housing projects.

Other targets for funding include child care providers, local artists and city parks.

The council’s debate on Monday centered less on the funding choices and more on the timing of the vote, which came on the first day on the job for two new City Council members – Zack Zappone and Jonathan Bingle.

Bingle requested a one-week deferral, arguing it would allow him to better represent his district.

“I’m not saying that anything on this is necessarily wrong, but I do have questions I would like to have answered if possible in the next week’s time,” Bingle said.

Zappone, however, noted the American Rescue Plan was a frequent topic of conversation on the campaign trail and said he felt comfortable moving forward on Monday.

“It matches all the priorities that I talked about and I think the community wants action,” Zappone said.

Councilman Michael Cathcart joined Bingle in seeking a deferral and sought more details about how the funding would be spent.

Monday’s vote did not set who would receive the money, but did decide generally how it would be spent. The winners of funding will be determined by requests for proposals, which will require additional council approval, according to Council President Breean Beggs.

“The process from here, after the money is generally allocated in these categories, is that the administration and council and community members would put together RFP groups for each of those categories,” Beggs explained.

Cathcart’s motion to defer the vote failed by a 5-2 margin.

The vote on the spending allocation passed unanimously.

In addition to $6 million for low-income housing projects, another $2 million set aside on Monday will fund a program to help first-time homebuyers afford a down payment on a home, as long they earn 80% or less than the area’s median income.

The support for affordable housing development was lauded by nonprofits.

“Housing is health. A home is a basic need we all share,” said Julie Honekamp, CEO of Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners

The council also allocated $1 million to support planning work that will aim to increase housing density along the city’s transportation corridors.

City parks will benefit from $1.1 million, aimed specifically at upgrading public bathrooms and park equipment.

The focus will be on improvements to parks in lower-income census tracts.

The spending plan approved Monday also includes $1 million to support child care centers and another $1 million to support people who work in the arts.

The federal American Rescue Plan was adopted early last year, but city officials have spent much of the subsequent time deliberating on a process to decide how to spend the city’s portion of aid and then reviewing scores of proposals.

“All of these substantive project ideas came from the community,” Beggs said.

The funding approved on Monday is the first of what is expected to be several rounds of spending.

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