Spokane Housing Authority breaks down what’s led to 3-year affordable housing waitlist

Spokane Housing Authority breaks down what’s led to 3-year affordable housing waitlist
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Spokane Housing Authority executive director Pam Tietz told KXLY there's a three-year waiting list for SHA's rental assistance program.

The Spokane Housing Authority says a shortage in federal funding is making it hard to accomplish its mission to provide housing and improve lives.

Right now, there are 2,000 people who have been sitting on a waiting list for the housing authority’s rental assistance program for the last three years. Executive director Pam Tietz says it may be another two years before they get the help they need.

Tietz tells KXLY the SHA opened up its waitlist three years ago and 4,600 people applied. Today, the SHA is still working through that waitlist, hoping to break a seemingly endless cycle keeping it from giving people the help they need.

“It’s just not funded at an adequate level to be able to help everybody that needs help,” Tietz said.

That’s where the cycle begins, according to Tietz.

“Federal funding for housing and discretionary programs is being cut every year,” she said.

That’s bad news for the housing authority, which relies solely on federal funding for its rental assistance program. Cuts to funding have also been compounded with a low vacancy rate in Spokane.

“An available apartment, or home, goes on the market and literally within hours it can be rented,” said Steve Corker, president of the Inland Northwest Landlord Association.

Tietz says this makes it difficult to find rental units, which drives up rents and creates a greater need for rental assistance. Those who rely on that assistance aren’t getting off the program as quickly as they used to.

A few years ago, Tietz says, the SHA would get 80 housing vouchers back a month. Those could be turned over and given to another family in need. Right now, the authority gets 35 vouchers back a month.

“The reason for that is because people are living paycheck to paycheck and they’re afraid to give up that voucher for fear that something could happen and then they would have no safety net,” Tietz said.

Those left sitting on that waiting list are left with limited local resources to turn to, like SNAP, the SHA and the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium (SLIHC) for help. So, they’re forced to get creative.

“Sometimes they get an extra job, sometimes they’ll rent out a room, sometimes they’ll stay with family,” Tietz said.

She’s encouraged this cycle could break soon, as this is the most attention this issue has gotten in her 30 years in the field. She believes it all hinges on who’s calling The White House home next year.

“We’ll wait and see until November of 2020, who wins the presidential race and what their priorities are to see what happens next,” she said.

If you’re looking for rental assistance, Tietz said to check back with the SHA at the end of the year to see if the waitlist opens back up again.

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