Local credit unions partner to tackle low-income housing in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — Low income housing is not easy to come by in the Spokane community. The problem continues to grow as organizations and city leaders try to find solutions.

There’s no simple solution, but the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium and local credit unions have a new approach to tackle the crisis.

The SPLIH partnered with the GoWest Foundation and regional credit unions, including the Spokane Teachers Credit Union and Canopy Credit Union, to create a land bank dedicated to low-income housing.

The credit unions donated $45,000 for a grant to fund the project.

“We stepped up to address the problems that have been continuing to build on themselves, and of course we all understand the affordability has become really paramount to us being able to have affordable housing,” said Charlotte Nemec, president and CEO of Spokane Canopy Credit Union.

A study from the City of Spokane shows there’s a huge gap in housing, and about 10,000 more houses have been needed over the last four years.

The land bank is designed to take away barriers for developers to build low income housing. Housing problems are complex.

“Where does the land come from? Whose going to build on it? And then how’s the ownership set up? None of that really matters unless you know where the lands coming from,”  STCU president and CEO Ezra Eckhardt said.

The land bank takes away the up front cost for developers who want to build affordable housing. Developers have to buy land before receiving funding from the federal government to build units.

The land bank can hold the property such as vacant lots  while developers work on the financing portion.

Ben Stuckart, executive director of SPLIH, says the land bank is a long term solution for the community.

“Here in Spokane we have a three year waitlist for people trying to get in that qualify for low income housing, so it’s a lot of what we see on the streets right now are people that qualify but there’s no housing available for them,” he said.

Stuckart says when the city has a drug house they call on non profits such as Habitat for Humanity to ask if they want to purchase the property. But if the non profit doesn’t have immediate use for the property it goes on the open market.

Stuckart says the land bank would help secure the property for low income housing.

He says another way the land bank will help is with the 400 zombie homes left over from the 2008 recession.

“That’s where banks have them but people aren’t living in them. In other cities that have created land banks in order to transfer and make the ease of transferring liens into the land bank a lot easier,” Stuckart said.

The next step in the process is to raise seed money for the project. Stuckart hopes to raise the funding within the next year.

The association is looking into a vacant lot in Peaceful Valley. Stuckart says a developer wants to sell it to them at a low market value.

The land would accommodate fourplexes with 40 units, which is enough to house 100 people.

READ: Cantwell looking to address lack of low income housing