Three housing advocates offer solutions on housing
By Catherine Ferguson SNJM
A workshop on Housing and Homelessness at the Jan 22 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference featured three advocates for solutions to different aspects of the housing crisis in Spokane.
Terri Anderson, co-executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, said the best way to decrease homelessness is to keep tenants in their housing and, to do, that Spokane needs laws to protect tenants. Currently landlords can displace tenants with no formal process or declared reason by issuing a 20-day no-cause notice to vacate to terminate a month-to-month rental agreement.
"It is nearly impossible in Spokane's tight market for a tenant evicted this way to find housing and pay move-in costs in 20 days because in this market more than 99 percent of the affordable housing is unavailable," she said.
The 2022 legislature is considering a bill to require landlords to provide 180 to 220 days' notice for rent increases over a certain amount, allowing tenants to terminate a lease for a rent increase over a certain amount and limiting late fees to $75.
Other reforms needed, Terri said, include removing a box on rental applications that asks about incarceration history, limiting conditions under which a landlord can retain a damage deposit and providing more tenant recourse if a landlord does not properly maintain the property.
Julie Garcia, executive director and founder of Jewels Helping Hands, emphasized the needs of the homeless.
"Spokane has a great need for low barrier spaces," she said, pointing out that there are laws in place which should ensure this, but the last two mayors have not prioritized complying with them. She decried the lack of emergency services this winter.
Ben Stuckart, executive director of the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, underlined Julie's point, saying that, because of inadequate services and planning, 162 homeless persons died on Spokane's streets in 2021.
He indicated that despite laws requiring the city to provide adequate shelter space for the homeless, city officials used expensive options and closed shelters during frigid temperatures.
From previously serving as Spokane City Council president and visiting Copenhagen to learn about a Danish approach to housing, Ben provided some history for the current housing crisis in Spokane and explained the more effective approach to housing in Denmark where housing is considered a human right.
Ben suggested increasing the population density of some regions of the city zoned only for single family residences. He said these areas came about because of covenants binding residents not to sell to certain people and where previous redlining also put up a barrier to affordable housing.
The three discussed several bills before the Washington State Legislature, which ends March 10. These bills address some of the difficulties they highlighted: One restricts the retention of damage deposits in rental housing (HB 1300). Another provides tenant protections during and after public health emergencies, provides legal representation in eviction cases and authorizes landlord access to state rental assistance programs (HB 5160). A third requires landlords to accept rent payments by mail or on site and to allow various forms of payment, not just electronic payment (HB 5749).