Spokane City Council Welcomes New Affordable Housing Resources

Breean Beggs, bbeggs@spokanecity.org

Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 3:05 p.m.

Yesterday Governor Inslee signed landmark legislation into law that could lead to the largest influx of resources for affordable housing in Spokane’s history.

House Bill 1590 was originally sponsored by Rep. Beth Doglio (D-Olympia) and was adopted by the City of Spokane as one of its top legislative priorities to address an acute lack of affordable housing.  The new law allows counties or cities to apply a modest local sales and use tax of 1/10th of 1 percent for affordable housing and mental health services.

Initial estimates are that roughly $6 million could be generated each year in Spokane for affordable housing, at a cost of just pennies a day for the average household. Under the new law, Council could approve the new revenue stream as soon as October 1.

The new law requires that 60 percent of the new money go toward development of housing for veterans, domestic violence victims and low-income, disabled, elderly or mentally ill people. The rest would be used to fund mental and behavioral health programs that would support residents of this new housing.

“We are exploring innovative ways to create home ownership opportunities for low-to-moderate income families, in addition to traditional affordable housing development aimed at renters,” said Spokane Council President Breean Beggs. “This is an exciting opportunity to get creative about developing long-term solutions for people with housing and behavioral health challenges while being accountable to taxpayers.” 

The new law is the result of a dogged two-year effort by the Council and its lobbying team to pass the measure. The bill was introduced in January 2019 with broad support from low-income housing advocates, but it was hung up in negotiations over whether counties or cities should get the first crack at instituting the tax.

“We never took our foot off the pedal,” said Beggs, who was in constant communication with 3rd District legislators Andy Billig, Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli throughout the legislative session to seek help with moving the bill forward. “They backed us every step of the way and did everything in their power to get it passed. It never would have happened without them.”

The issue that derailed HB 1590 in the 2019 session was resolved this year by giving counties the first opportunity to levy the tax. If they don’t do so by October 1, then cities can enact the tax with a simple majority vote of their governing body.

“I am hopeful we act on this as soon as possible. It’s not a cure-all, but it is an important step we can take this year to address Spokane’s housing crisis,” Beggs added. “This approach will give everyone buying goods and services in Spokane an opportunity to pitch in and help some of the most vulnerable among us.”