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Spokane Considers Changes To Encourage Affordable Housing


Lack of affordable housing has become a big issue in some Western cities. Many cite that as one major reason for growing homeless populations, especially in big cities like Seattle and San Francisco. But Spokane has its own problem, with low vacancy rates in rental units and, because of supply and demand, increasing rents.

Next week, the Spokane City Council will consider three ordinances aimed at creating more incentives for developers and property owners to build affordable housing.

Nathan Gwinn is an assistant planner for the city. He says the process goes back three years with a subcommittee of the city plan commission.

Nathan Gwinn: “They were interested in looking at opportunities to increase development of vacant sites and already built up areas.”    
Doug: “And how does this do that?”
Nathan Gwinn: “The city has proposed standards that changes the standards that are needed to effectively increase options for developing different forms of housing such as townhouses and attached single family homes, as well as multi-family development. This offers the community more diverse housing options.”
Doug: “What are the restrictions that most affect the building of that type of housing?”
Nathan Gwinn: “The committee identified a number of discrepancies between the way multi-family development is treated and how the code applies standards to single-family options in multi-family zones. This effort, in particular, looks at those instances where the code appears to not allow for a similar treatment of these two different development types and eliminates some of those differences.”

The changes apply to neighborhoods within a few blocks of some of the city’s designated retail centers.

“Largely, they’re within a five-minute walk of these business centers. These areas are also served by transit and frequent transit in a lot of cases. So these are areas that are already designated for up to 30 housing units per acre of land or more and largely located in the central part of Spokane and then around these business centers,” Gwinn said.

The new rules would tweak the allowable building heights so that developers could create full three-story housing units.

“These changes really just make development of townhouses, in particular, and some types of multi-family developments to offer those more diverse housing options on smaller sites more effective. When we asked the development community, they identified that these changes were needed. As far as increased demand, maybe just a difference in the supply of housing and the form that it takes to offer those more diverse housing options,” Gwinn said.

The new rules would allow for housing units on slightly smaller lot sizes and they would make changes to parking requirements, with fewer or no parking spaces required for smaller developments.

“There’s a proposed reduction of 30% in these areas that are designated for higher,  intense developments, 30% reduction of the current, which is basically one space per unit plus one space for every bedroom after three. Then, within a quarter mile or about four blocks from these centers, there’s a 50% reduction in parking,” Gwinn said.

He says the changes aren’t major, but maybe enough to encourage more developers to do the infill types of housing you see in larger, more dense cities.

“I think the committee recognized that, and I think our adopted policy recognizes, as the population changes, people in all neighborhoods will need to find different forms of housing as they go through life changes and so part of this is providing those different forms of houses in their own neighborhoods: attached apartments or accessory apartments in single-family homes. This just represents another housing form, attached housing that may increase the diversity of the housing supply," he said.

The city council will vote on these changes at its meeting next Monday.