Packed In: ‘They always sit on a shelf’: City Council members say they’re not moving fast enough to fix housing crisis

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane city leaders know there’s a housing problem. The City Council adopted a Housing Action Plan to find solutions, but changes can’t happen overnight. Some say a zoning overhaul could help, but it’s years in the making.

“We shouldn’t limit certain the types of housing as we do now to one neighborhood,” said city council member Michael Cathcart.

Kendall Yards is one of the neighborhoods that got around the red tape to develop. There’s single family homes, condos, townhomes and multi-family complexes in the same place. However, that’s illegal in 80 percent of the city’s neighborhoods.

Current zoning favors single family lots which don’t allow for increased density. Other council members know that type of neighborhood could help the housing issue.

“If you look at Kendall Yards, that’s the model that we could use,” said Lori Kinnear, City Council Member.

Cathcart tried to pass an emergency ordinance to temporarily legalize duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in every residential neighborhood to speed up the process and start seeing this development in months versus years but was shut down. Other council members feel the community needs to weigh in before making such a sweeping change.

“There’s a lot of steps that have to happen before this is implemented,” Kinnear said. “It’s not just as simple as saying yep we’re going to do this.”

Cathcart says if we’re in an emergency, we have to start acting like it. That’s why he made the proposal.

“We’re always adopting plans,” he said. “We’re always adopting these things, and they always sit on a shelf.”

Kinnear wants to focus on speeding up permitting and addressing downtown housing opportunities. She thinks these are more realistic changes to make.

“How do we activate the downtown land to build more density downtown?” Kinnear asked.

Both know housing is a major concern as the city grows, but Cathcart is pushing for faster reform to see change sooner rather than later.

“My biggest frustration right now is we adopted that [Housing Action Plan] July 26. It’s been 2.5 months, and we really haven’t seen a whole lot of activity yet,” Cathcart added.

Zoning changes aren’t totally nixed, but it will take years to see any kind of relief.

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