Amanda Beck, Assistant Planner II, 509.625.6414
Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 2:28 p.m.
Organizations in the Inland Northwest are working hard to address the current housing affordability crisis. The City’s Shaping Spokane Housing effort is an extension of the 2020 Housing Action Plan and focuses on some of the smaller projects and following recommendations for solutions like backyard apartments and new lots. But why is the City looking at these solutions for the housing supply? There are several economy-wide and local reasons why housing is getting more expensive, both across the nation and in Spokane. Here are three big trends.
Americans experienced wage growth from the 1960s up until 2008. Meaning, when adjusted for inflation, wages were increasing and so was a household’s purchasing power. Since 2008, increases in wages haven’t risen enough to keep purchasing power above inflation, or an increasing standard of living.
What this looks like locally is that between 2012 and 2018, the median household income increased 21.2 percent, while from 2010 to 2020, the median home price increased by 47 percent, from $174,000 to $256,000. Renter median income increased 20.7 percent from 2012 to 2018, while the average rent for a two-bedroom in Spokane rose 11.2 percent, from $972 to $1,081 from 2010 to 2020. While increases in renter income is a positive, it can also be an early warning sign that moderate-income households are staying in the rental market longer because they’re priced out of the homeownership market.
Following the 2008 Financial Crash, housing construction lagged nationally and locally. Construction of single-family and multi-family residential has not kept pace with population growth over the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused problems as well, with developers experiencing sharp increases in construction materials, snarls to the supply chain, or delayed work due to pandemic-related shutdowns.
Lagging construction of single-family homes and multi-family residential is complicated by population growth. Between 2010 and 2020, Washington State grew by over 931,000 people, with an influx of over 500,000 people from out of state. In that time, Spokane’s population increased by over seven percent, which keeps Spokane as the state’s second largest city.
With more people looking to buy fewer homes, buyers end up searching down-market. Buyers from higher price ranges bid up lower tier housing after failing to secure a house in their preferred range. The domino effect of each rung of the income ladder being squeezed from above results in the lowest-income households being left behind. This suggests that more housing at all income levels is needed to address our housing shortage.
As a mid-sized city, Spokane is often well ranked for quality of living, employment, and amenities. Spokane boasts 87 city parks and five community centers, with over 4,100 acres of protected green space. Thanks to the voter approved library bond, the City library system is upgrading with three new libraries and renovations to the other four libraries that serve as community anchors throughout the city. For the 2021-2022 U.S. News Best Places, Spokane ranked 78th nationally, including being 101st for Best Places to Retire, and out of 150 metros Spokane ranked 3rd as the best place to live if you’re concerned about climate change. In 2021, Best Cities ranked Spokane as 64th and the only other Washington city besides Seattle (14th).
An influx of population to our area means more opportunity and a stronger economy for everyone—a bigger labor pool for companies that are growing, entrepreneurs who are looking to start new businesses, artists who can add to the Spokane arts and culture scene. This is a great thing as long as there are enough houses for everybody who wants to come here.
Spokane’s quiet neighborhoods blend well with our diverse downtown, with infrastructure and support for local entrepreneurs to flourish. It’s not hard to see why people enjoy Spokane’s small town feel with its big city amenities and businesses that are uniquely 509.
Will the proposed changes to regulations be sufficient to help make it easier to build backyard cottages like accessory dwelling units, and other smaller housing options? Learn more and give feedback at the Shaping Spokane Housing webpage.