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Northeast tenants fear losing housing as rents escalate

Courtesy of the ZoNE

Northeast Spokane includes one of the lowest income census tracts in the city. A new survey on rent increases found 78% of respondents were worried about staying housed. The survey comes as Spokane County sees historically low vacancy rates, and big rent increases.A survey conducted by the ZoNE, a Northeast Community Center initiative, found that rents in that area went up on average at least two-hundred dollars. According to ZoNE data, 169 people responded to the poll, most of which live in northeast Spokane. A little more than half of those surveyed say they haven’t been able to find a new rental they can afford.

Jene Ray, the assistant director for the ZoNE, says most of the people who responded to the survey said the rent increases had caused a strain on their mental health. And one in five said they felt hopeless.

“It’s paralyzing to see that there’s a place you could move, and understanding you can’t afford your rent where you’re out, and you can’t afford to move,” Ray said.

According to the University of Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research, Spokane’s apartment vacancy rate is just point-five percent -- the lowest level since the center started keeping track. Landlords say the low supply, an increased risk of owning a rental, and cost of living has forced them to raise rents.  

Ray says the survey results show an urgent need for housing intervention.

“So if you have 78% of households worried about staying housed, that obviously is a crisis that we need to prevent,” Ray said.

Ray says her organization is planning workshops for the community to connect renters to resources, like food, utility and childcare assistance that could help their budgets stretch farther. She says they’ve also started discussions with city leaders about federal American Rescue Plan funding, or other resources that could help people in a housing crisis.

Terri Anderson, the executive director of the Spokane branch of the Tenant’s Union of Washington State, says the average rent increase reported in the survey is lower than what’s she’s hearing in the community.

“There are many tenants who paid rent, all the way through the pandemic,” Anderson said. “They didn’t apply for rental assistance, they didn’t get rental assistance, and all the sudden they’re hit with a $700 rent increase.”

Anderson is calling for more rental assistance with fewer barriers, and for legal intervention from local government.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs says city leaders have chosen to exhaust the existing $30 million of rental assistance that’s available before tapping into American Rescue Plan funds for rent relief.

The city also recently held a forum and is currently conducting surveys to determine how to spend its $80 million American Rescue Plan allotment.

Beggs says he is also considering a city policy that would put restrictions on aid for landlords if they raise rent. But he has not yet discussed a proposal with the rest of the city council.

Anderson says the biggest thing tenants can do right now to protect themselves is to get educated on the rules and the types of help already available. Two state laws that went into effect this year bar landlords from holding rental history during the pandemic against tenants, require landlords to give more notice to their tenants before asking them to leave, and pay for a program that connects renters to free legal representation.

“What I have a problem with is people are going to become homeless,” Anderson said. “You do not have to flee. You have rights.”

Anderson says she hopes the city will offer grants to community centers or other non-profits to educate tenants on the new laws.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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