Local landlords fear for the future of affordable housing in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — Some local landlords have gone over a year without rent payments from tenants. With bills piling up and no income coming in, they’re fearful for the future of housing affordability in Spokane.

Keith Kelley owns 13 rental properties in the area. Due to the statewide moratorium on evictions, he’s still not receiving rent from some of his tenants and says he’s losing $10,000 to $15,000 a month in income. Owning rental properties is Kelley’s only source of income, and he’s already had to sell off one of his units just to make ends meet.

“It’s been pretty scary for one to know that there’s no way to enforce the contracts as constitutional law provides,” Kelley said. “It’s been tough, running in the red for sure.”

Unlike large apartment complexes, local landlords haven’t received as much assistance during the pandemic.

“Small landlords can’t take that burden. Big, corporate landlords, they are in a better position,” said Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest. “They have access to financing and bank loans.”

Kelley offers rentals at prices below average in Spokane. His properties rent for around $600 a month including utilities, cable, wireless internet and laundry. According to RENTcafe, average rent in Spokane is around $1,079 which has gone up 5% in the last year. Kelley says mom and pop landlords are more committed to providing affordable housing options for renters.

“Your mom and pop landlords are a critical resource for the vibrancy of any housing community, and we really rely on them,” Kelley said. “We need more of them to provide quality affordable housing, and unfortunately that’s the thing that I really worry is going to be evaporating in the years to come.”

“We just are not sensitive enough to the unintended consequences of COVID,” Corker said. “If people are struggling right now, can they deal with payback? The question is, are we expecting the landlords to eat those losses? That’s unrealistic for small landlords.”

Housing costs have also risen in Spokane which means keeping up rental properties is more expensive, and landlords have to maintain units whether or not rent comes in.

“There’s been a terrible escalation on property values and utility rates, so the cost of maintaining rental properties is skyrocketing,” Corker said.

Kelley fears if more local landlords have to sell their properties, middle and low-income families will be hurt the most because they can’t afford to buy homes at escalating values or rent in newer complexes.

“We’re just seeing housing affordability evaporate, and it’s going to get a lot worse in the years to come.”

Washington’s eviction moratorium is set to expire on March 31.