Packed In: Local leaders race to solve Spokane’s housing crisis

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Inland Northwest is a beautiful place to live, and now lots of people are figuring that out.

“We’re in a crisis right now and we need to find a way out of it,” said Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns.

If you’ve lived in Spokane for a while, or maybe even just a couple years, you’ve noticed the changes.

“For many years, Spokane wanted to be a sleepy, kind of suburban city, not even a city,” said City Council President Breean Beggs.

A lot of changes have been good—Riverfront Park’s renovations, local farmers markets or the burgeoning art scene may come to mind. But, these changes have come with some growing pains, particularly on our housing market.

“Where do I go and who can I talk to?” asked Colleen Baugus, a local renter who spoke with us in June.

“It’s such a hard area to find other rentals, houses, units, anything,” said Peter Newman, another tenant who was not sure he could keep up with rent increases.

“It’s been a little frustrating, to be honest,” said Priya Mathur, who struggled for months to find an affordable home in the area.

We’re getting packed in, and that means a lot of people are getting squeezed out.

“The average family in this community can’t afford the average house in this community,” said Commissioner Kerns.

He points to the economic crash of 2008 as the start of our problems.

He says after 2008, home construction stopped, buildable land became scarce and high school graduates were pushed to go to college, rather than pick up trades. Then came COVID, and many people found out they could work remotely, so they moved.

“And we’ve hit that perfect storm where it’s all coming together at the same time,” said Kerns.

And now, home builders can’t keep up. It costs more than ever to build a home. Kerns says it’s also a land issue.

“The biggest hindrance to single-family construction in Washington State is the Growth Management Act,” said Kerns.

While Kerns wants to open up more areas for construction in the county, the City of Spokane wants to expand from the core out, such as on arterials and corridors like Division here; doing away with single-story construction.

“That means it’s going to be closer together, smaller lots and going up,” said Beggs.

Just last week, Mayor Nadine Woodward and Spokane City Council passed the Housing Action Plan outlining ways to increase affordable housing.

RELATED: Mayor Woodward declares housing emergency in Spokane

RELATED: City Council approves new version of Housing Action Plan

“We’re going to make changes now that will help us for generations,” said Beggs.

While the county can’t change the Growth Management Act, it has been streamlining the permitting process for builders. Just last month, it moved 100% online for building permits, and moved the building and planning departments onto the same floor.

“Everybody loves density, as long as it’s not near them,” said Kerns.

This doesn’t mean things will change overnight; the bidding wars continue. Rent keeps going up and tough decisions are being made every day.

It’s the Inland Northwest, our home—the solutions are there, it just may take some searching.

“We need to attack the supply side to help bring down those prices,” said Kerns.

“We’ve been stalled on this issue, we’ve been stuck. People want different things,” said Beggs. “Now, it’s gotten so bad people are coming together.”

And that’s what makes this a beautiful place to live.

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