Legislative Conference speakers give overview of housing issues
Three speakers addressed housing inequities, issues and legislation for a workshop at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference:Terri Anderson of the Tenants Union, Ben Stuckart of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium and Jonathan Mallahan of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington.
Terri said ties between housing and systemic racism in Spokane housing date to 1881, when Spokane's first indigenous inhabitants were evicted by executive order, forced to leave their land and homes. A homesteader claimed the Peaceful Valley land of Spokane Chief Garry while he was away for education.
"Property rights often supersede human rights," she said. "The Tenants Union considers housing a human right. As new inhabitants settled Spokane, race dictated housing policy with white covenants and redlining on the South Hill near Comstock Park and North Hill near Audubon Park in place until court cases and then the Fair Housing Act in 1968 reversed the policies."
Other inequities relate to access to financing, displacement and exclusion.
Half of Spokane's population rent, with 80 percent of black households and 60 percent of other people of color renting, while 70 percent of white households are homeowners only 30 percent rent.
That gap arises from disparities in wealth, education and jobs, she said, so nonprofits collaborate to help make housing stable and rents fair.
Ben said three pillars of a stool for housing stability are 1) adjusting regulations to allow density in the right places, 2) tenant protections and 3) subsidies and support to build more low-income housing.
"Home and apartment prices rose double digits in 2020," he said. "As prices rise, it pressures the system."
In December 2019, the City Council postponed to March 9 discussion of tenant protections, Ben said. With the pandemic, tenant protections were postponed because of a moratorium on evictions.
With no guarantee how long the moratorium will last, Terri said there is need for city and state actions or, when it ends, there will be "a tsunami of evictions," especially because Spokane County had not used CARES funds for rent assistance.
There are proposals for the city to pass just cause eviction, rent control, fair housing, rental relocation, maintenance codes, the right to organize and on domestic violence, hate crimes and voter registration.
In the Senate, SB 5139 prevents rent increases for six months and SB 5160 provides an off ramp from the eviction moratorium, requiring repayment plans, mediation and a right to counsel.
• In the House, HB 1236 is for just cause eviction and ending the 20-day no cause eviction clause. HB 1277 increases the real estate transaction fee by $100 to establish permanent rental assistance. HB 1220 allows emergency shelters in areas zoned for hotels and motels. HB 1300 is on returning damage deposits and defining normal wear and tear, so they are not used to replace a 40-year-old appliance.
Jonathan said Catholic Charities programs and resources protect tenants and people who care for people experiencing trauma, mental illness or disability.
Project-based assistance gives a three-year tax credit for low-income housing to be built. Landlords can assign housing vouchers to make units affordable so people earning less than 30 percent of the poverty level pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing, he said.
Seeing housing as integral to human dignity, Jonathan said Catholic Charities offers supportive services.
"We offer emergency housing in Rapid Rehousing when people become homeless when they are evicted. We provide permanent supportive, low-barrier housing while people receive help for trauma, disability or mental illness," he said.
Jonathan said federal programs to assist those with the highest housing needs include CARES, Low Income Housing Tax, HOME, Section 108 vouchers and Section 202 financing for seniors.
Ben said regulatory framework will be affected by HB 1220 on the Growth Management Act, established 20 years ago for cities to limit urban sprawl, but most cities have not implemented their comprehensive plans to allow density.
"Low-income housing needs to be part of comprehensive plans because single-family zoning tends to match past redlining maps. Land use zoning also requires environmental policies," he said. "Cities like Minneapolis have eliminated single family zoning."
Ben said the three elements for housing stability—protect tenants, provide low-income housing and change regulations like zoning—need to be addressed at the same time so communities avoid negative effects, like gentrification that drives low-income people from neighborhoods.
State and federal policies concentrate on poverty areas. Multi-family housing is concentrated in East and West Central Spokane, but Ben said there is a trend for more density in the city core and outlying areas. SB 5235 promotes density with accessory dwelling units on single-family property.
"The goal is walkable mixed-income neighborhoods," he said.
"The most important bill is HB 1236 for just cause evictions," said Ben. "Without protections there will be mass evictions.
"Ten Spokane nonprofits serve 500 tenants at risk of eviction when the moratorium lifts and renters have nowhere to go," he said. "We need to build more low-income housing so people who do everything right do not sit years on waiting lists."
For information, call Ben at 710-9611, Terri at 558-7126 or Jonathan at 358-4250.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2021