Spokane’s housing crisis has shocked renters looking to buy homes and landlords looking to move. Prices have skyrocketed and when houses come up for sale or apartments become available, they sell quickly.
For communities of color in Spokane, the housing crisis seems even more pronounced, and on Thursday night, the Spokane YWCA dedicated its annual Stand Up to Racism program to the racial disparities that exist in the housing crisis.
Because Stand Against Racism is nationally recognized, local YWCA chapters tailor events to their communities. Jeanette Hauck, CEO of YWCA Spokane, said highlighting Spokane’s housing crisis was an easy decision for the YWCA Board of Directors. April is also National Fair Housing Month.
“Our committee selected housing issues and racial disparities in housing in Spokane,” Hauck said. “We really chose it from a community perspective that starts with the community to make sure everyone’s voices are heard.”
The roundtable, moderated by real estate investor Chauncey Jones, featured Terri Anderson, community organizer for the Washington Tenants Union, and Stephanie Courtney, who leads the Learning Project, which creates content to help bring social justice changes for the benefit of children, families and communities.
“They spoke really well on the subject, they brought some new information to some people and reinforced a lot of widely held knowledge about some of the disparities that exist in Spokane, and they had the opportunity to talk about those in particular” , Hauck said. .
Discussions around housing equity go beyond the historic practice of redlining, which relegated black residents to poor, segregated neighborhoods because banks wouldn’t lend them money to live elsewhere. However, the language surrounding redlining has changed — single-family zoning is now an equally damaging practice for fair housing in Spokane, Anderson said. The cost of property has gone up 89% in Spokane, she added. In March, the median price of a home in Spokane County hit an all-time high of $429,998, the Spokane Association of Realtors reported. Racial disparities are one of the stark contrasts between those who rent and own in Spokane, including landlords and renters, Anderson said.
Anderson helped establish a local tenants’ union in 2013 when rents began to rise in the United States. According to a study by the Northwest Housing Alliances, 70% of Black, Indigenous and other people of color in Spokane are renters, compared to 30% of their white counterparts.
There’s a 20-year gap in life expectancy between residents of South Hill, home to Spokane’s wealthiest neighborhoods, and those who live in Hillyard and West Central, the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Spokane also has a near-zero vacancy rate, raising housing availability issues for evictees. This prompted Courtney to raise awareness of a neighborhood’s cultural assets, including community centers and services that can support neighborhoods. Anderson agreed, pointing out that housing availability in Spokane does not accommodate intergenerational families, a common living practice seen in families of color.
Courtney spoke from the perspective of motherhood and demanded that the community provide basic needs from “conception of life”.
“We have to go back to the very beginning and ask ourselves, ‘If this single dad comes along and needs help, how do we support him and not just through services?’ “Courtney said. “Is it our culture to say that support is the number one topic, the number one place that our community, our city values?
Anderson explained how housing affects the practice of democracy with mail-in voting and voter registration forms. Revoking the right to housing, Anderson said, complicates a citizen’s ability to “secure their voice in democracy.” It also highlighted the relationship between landlord and tenants.
“Who wants to rock the boat with your landlord if the result could be that you’re going to get notice that you’re going to have to move?” Anderson said. “And when there’s no place to move, any kind of notice is notice that you could be homeless in any number of days.”
Anderson discussed the legislative ins and outs of the right to housing. She said some Spokane landlords and landlords were seeking to appeal the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination around “the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, nationality, national origin or sex”.
She clarified that the rent control conversation is a state decision and outside of the city’s jurisdiction. There is also a trust fund available for those who are behind or behind on their rent.
Both Anderson and Courtney provided a diverse perspective on Spokane’s housing crisis, which helped connect with the diverse audience at the event.
“That’s the only way it’s going to work,” Jones said. “But when becomes ‘we’ and that’s a much more powerful movement and that’s what it’s going to take, ‘us’ instead of just one person. When the whole village does it, we can come up with the changes we want to see.
Anderson also issued a call to action from the tenants’ union, which outlines requirements for the enactment of a fair housing ordinance that prohibits criminal history questions and advocates for universal tenancy applications.