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Report shows Spokane County falling behind in meeting housing supply needs

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(The Center Square) – While fewer Spokane County households are cost-burdened than in years past, the Washington State Department of Commerce says more people are becoming homeless in the area.

The department’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board released its 2023-2028 Housing Advisory Plan on Monday, outlining trends across each county as the state grapples with a housing affordability crisis.

The board attributed Washington’s challenging housing market to several factors, most notably rapid cost inflation due to supply chain and labor shortages, as well as higher interest rates, which have inflated mortgages.

​​“Washington is among many states that are not producing an adequate and affordable supply of housing for our growing population,” said Paul Trautman, Affordable Housing Advisory Board Chair, in a news release. “The housing challenges highlighted in this report will take local, state, and federal action to build the more than one million housing units needed across Washington.”

In general, housing affordability depends on cost and income. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies a household as cost-burdened if it spends more than 30% of its income on housing, which includes utilities and other costs in addition to mortgage or rent.

In 2015, 37% of Spokane County households reported being cost-burdened in terms of housing, shrinking to 33% in 2021, according to the Housing Advisory Plan, which tracked a similar trend across most counties in the state.

Meanwhile, Spokane County’s homeless population increased by 14% from 2016 to 2022, with 26 homeless people per 10,000 residents. According to the Housing Advisory Plan, the only counties that saw improvement across that period were Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat and King County.

Spokane County continues to fall behind most of the state in meeting its projected housing needs. According to the Housing Advisory Plan, Spokane County produced 89% of the almost 3,000 needed to meet growing demands in 2023.

Spokane was among 10 of 39 Washington counties that made little progress in increasing its housing supply to meet current demands. However, according to the Housing Advisory Plan, the state as a whole produced 101% of the needed housing supply from 2020-2023.

While Washington met the statewide need or statistic, most units produced were from counties far exceeding the local need. For example, according to the Housing Advisory Plan, some counties produced 200% to 300% of their needed housing supply in a given time period.

In terms of moderate-income housing, Spokane County produced 78% of the 328 middle housing units needed to meet demands from 2020 to 2023. Comparatively, the county produced 57% of the almost 2,000 low-income housing units across the same period, according to the Housing Advisory Plan.

In 2023, Spokane County had almost 11,000 subsidized units that income-qualified tenants could apply for. However, according to the Housing Advisory Plan, almost 34,000 households would have qualified that year.

The county also struggled to produce low-income housing units with a Multifamily Tax Exemption incentive. According to the Housing Advisory Plan, Spokane County needed 1,933 units with MFTE from 2017 to 2021 to meet demands but only produced 9% at 172 units. Statewide, Washington counties only made 21% of what was needed.

Overall, that translates into the dream of owning a home in Spokane County becoming harder to make a reality as rents continue to inflate.

According to the Housing Advisory Plan, Spokane County’s Housing Affordability Index value is 68, and its Transitional Renter Affordability Index value is 86. In 2015, the HAI value was 131, and the TRAI value was 94.

If an area had a HAI or TRAI value of 100, it would mean that the median-income buyer or renter would have just enough to afford a median-priced property.

“This report describes the housing challenges resulting from investments in affordable housing not keeping pace with Washington’s dynamic growth,” said Tedd Kelleher, Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Policy Director, in a news release. “Implementing the recommendations in this report at the necessary scale is critical to meeting the housing needs of our state.”

The report’s recommendations include increasing funding support, streamlining administrative and regulatory processes, supporting construction job training, promoting new types of housing, and supporting homeownership for low- and moderate-income families.