Housing crisis

Multiple housing advocacy groups come together for groundbreaking change amid Spokane’s housing crisis

Nazeerah Muhammad works tirelessly to pay the $1,025 rent for her one-bedroom apartment in Browne’s Addition.

She is among Spokane tenants who have little access to financial safety nets such as bank loans or generational wealth. The American Community Survey found that 58% of Spokane renters are people of color. Muhammad, a black woman, has resided here since 2016.

Muhammad tried to make it work by serving tables at Shari’s on Division, a few stints with call centers and a job at Kaiser Permanente Health Insurance. She used up her savings, and it still wasn’t enough.

In March, however, Muhammad found help: the Carl Maxey Center’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The program is the first of its kind in Spokane, centered on black residents, a racial group that commonly experiences housing discrimination.

“It literally freed me up to find a job, but I’m still able to pay my bills with this help,” Muhammad said. “And I’m also able to focus on the things that I’ve kind of neglected so I can have a future. I cry sometimes because it’s such a relief.

According to the Washington State Tenants Union, Spokane is at a dangerously low 0.5% for housing availability, and the cost of homeownership has increased nearly 90% over the past few years. last four years.

The Maxey Center rental assistance program is just one of many solutions offered to alleviate the housing crisis. Spokane mirrors national trends of inadequate housing stock, strained tenant-landlord relations, and uncertainty about Gen Z’s chances of homeownership. The chances of owning a home are dwindling as Gen Z tries to balance high financial obligations such as student loan repayments and inflation that is at its highest since the 1980s.

Housing advocacy groups, as well as the Spokane City Council, have discussed the dangers of the housing crisis in Spokane. Marley Hochendoner, executive director of the Northwest Housing Alliance, cites racial discrimination as a major concern in the housing crisis.

“They bear the brunt of much of the injustice and reduced access to housing,” Hochendoner said. “It’s BIPOC people, people with disabilities, people on low fixed incomes, so there’s a lot of crossover. When we have something that affects everyone, not enough housing, the people who are often the hardest hit are those who have already experienced racism, discrimination throughout history and their lives and who have so many other obstacles in their path.

Housing discrimination against people of color is deeply rooted in the United States. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited housing discrimination but did not remove barriers to fair housing for those affected by redlining, race pacts, piloting or other discriminatory practices, reducing opportunities for the future. Black and Latino owners.

“Even (our) zoning codes perpetuate discrimination or segregation by not allowing certain structures to be built now, Hochendoner said. “The city is looking to make changes to residential codes to allow secondary suites and more duplexes, but this is an example of policies that we can really look at and examine for racial inequities, and how (policies) perpetuate discrimination past which is a result of covenants, segregation and piloting of real estate agents.

The Northwest Housing Alliance participated in the City of Spokane’s Empediments to Fair Housing study in 2019 to understand the racial and economic aspects of the housing crisis.

“In Spokane, for example, the homeownership rate for whites is around 63%, and it’s in the 40s for BIPOC communities,” Hochendoner said, adding that rising rents are more likely to weigh on people of color who are primarily tenants.

A 210-page housing action plan, approved by city council last year, assessed the issues contributing to Spokane’s housing crisis. City Council Speaker Breean Beggs and Councilor Lori Kinnear spearheaded the project. The final plan was adopted in November with the aim of creating new types of habitats, an urgent need.

“I’m sure a lot of people are like, ‘You did this in July, why wasn’t it done at the end of the year?’ “Said Begs. “If you make significant changes to land use and development rules in the overall plan, we have to go through a very elaborate public process.

During virtual seminars, the city council met with organizations such as the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance, the Tenants Union of Washington and local leaders of organizations, such as the NAACP.

The meetings clarified short- and long-term goals to address housing issues, such as universal background checks to reduce the cost of rental applications and dismantling barriers to building duplexes and other types of various dwellings in single-family areas.

Along with efforts to build fair housing, organizations seek to help struggling tenants. Duaa-Rahemaah Williams is a statewide organizer for the Resident Action Project (RAP), a network that teaches leadership skills, storytelling, advocacy, and other tactics to those directly affected by housing issues. housing and homelessness to change state policy.

Williams aims to create change that centers the experiences of those affected by housing insecurity. The overall goal, she said, is to implement policies and laws. Because RAP is a statewide organization, however, housing advocacy may look different for communities across the state.

Williams also works with local organizations like the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance.

“We give them the skills and training to become leaders in the community,” Williams said. “So we all want to bring about change by telling stories, being on panels, telling our stories, organizing and doing voter civic engagement. Our whole thing is… making changes at the state level.

The Resident Action Project plans to hold a two-day housing summit in June, which will focus on housing injustices experienced by BIPOC tenants, people with disabilities, refugees and the LGBTQ+ community.

“Those in the community know their stories better than you do,” Williams said. “They have the experience because they have lived it.”

Through her work, Williams discovered overwhelming racial disparities in Spokane’s housing crisis.

“People experiencing housing injustices include Black, Indigenous, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, refugees, people whose second language is English” , Williams said. “I make sure that those who are part of the RAP, who receive information and training in different areas, are part of these communities.”

Michelle Pappas is one of the RAP representatives that Williams trained on personal testimony. Pappas, who identifies as biracial and Mexican, has struggled with housing since childhood.

With the help of RAP and donations, Pappas got his first house. Pappas advocates for housing equity, including the decriminalization of homelessness. Now, in his role as program manager for Future Wise, a Spokane nonprofit that advocates for “healthy, equitable, opportunity-rich communities,” Pappas encourages BIPOC youth to organize testimonials about their experiences of lodging.

“Storytelling in community organizing isn’t just about teaching people how to tell their stories, it’s also about reminding people that their lived experience is so important and valuable,” Pappas said. “I hear a lot of ‘I’m only 17 and I have no experience.’ You have 17 years of lived experience, that’s more than me in my work.

To recognize April as Fair Housing Month, the YWCA Spokane hosted a roundtable discussion on racial justice and housing with Terri Anderson, Executive Director of the Spokane Chapter of the Tenants’ Union and Stephanie Courtney, Founder of The Learning Project .

Anderson discussed the importance of obtaining housing in order to participate in democratic practices like mail-in voting and to have access to other important resources. She echoed Hochendoner’s sentiments about the racial disparities fueling the crisis.

“The Spokane Regional Health District did a health study where they did neighborhood by neighborhood life expectancy,” Anderson said. “You can literally see a 20-year lifespan difference in neighborhoods that only had white wedding rings and neighborhoods with red lines, so we feel that in our lives.”

One of the first physical housing solutions is the Haystack Heights cohousing project. Located in the South Perry district,

“Our cohabitation is an intergenerational project,” said project co-founder Mariah McKay. “We believe we have the best of both worlds here at Haystack, where there is a 7 minute bike ride from downtown Spokane and an urban green space that we are able to preserve.”

On nearly three acres of land, the Haystack Heights cluster model contains five floors of housing over three flights of stairs. The design relies on the style of housing density, as opposed to the sprawling floor plans of single-family homes. Of the 39 families occupying the residential components, nine have school-age children. The majority of members are over 60 years old.

At the opening ceremony on May 27, Council Chairman Breean Beggs explained how Haystack Heights speaks to the Housing Action Plan’s priority of “increasing housing supply, options and accessibility.” ‘affordability for all incomes’.

“In this new world of resource scarcity, climate change and income inequality…cohabitation is a real solution because you have more people living together with less resources spent but with a high quality of life,” Beggs said. “Right now, even though it’s a horrific housing crisis in the community, getting out of the crisis is an emergency that leads to solutions.”

According to Shaping Spokane, the 2017 update to the city’s comprehensive plan, Spokane’s population is expected to grow to 234,306 people by 2037. More than 7,000 affordable housing units are to be added to the area’s housing landscape.

While housing advocacy groups promote solutions through rent relief funds, tenant unions and citywide talks, many solutions are temporary.

Hochendoner hopes the city seeks to implement more of the solutions found during the housing action plan process.

“We must prioritize … access to housing programs for people who experience discrimination,” Hochendoner said. “That’s one of the things I saw in the city’s implementation plan. Housing programs should be a priority for current or former residents of formerly demarcated areas.