(The Center Square) – An interim task force created to study and make recommendations on homeless housing issues for the city of Spokane Valley held its initial organizational meeting on Friday.
The group is comprised of representatives from municipal, social service, school, street ministry, business and other community interests. Members elected Spokane Valley mayor Pam Haley to chair the task force, with meetings scheduled for 9 a.m. on the second Friday of each month.
City services administrator Gloria Mantz said the interim task force will serve as an advisory board to the Spokane Valley City Council.
Along with Haley, the task force is comprised of two “lived experience” volunteers and representatives with experience in four other areas. Those volunteers are Lance Beck of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce (business); Central Valley School District superintendent John Parker (schools/education); housing assistance programs director Arielle Anderson (housing authority); and a county representative: either housing and community development administrator George Dahl or homeless programs manager Chris McKinney.
In July, the council approved a resolution establishing a homeless housing program. That decision enables the city to become independent from Spokane County in their previous combined participation in Washington’s Homeless Housing Assistance Act. The HHAA program is administered through the state Department of Commerce.
The act allows counties to collect a $183 surcharge on most recorded real estate transaction documents. Of that, 1% is retained by the county auditor for expenses, 30% is kept by the county for its local housing and homeless program, and the remaining 69% is sent to the state and allocated among three funds: Home Security Fund (54.1%), Affordable Housing for All (13.1%) and Landlord Mitigation (1.8%).
Cities which chose to operate their own homeless housing program can receive a portion of each document recording fee equal to the local percentage of the state’s real-estate excise tax.
That’s the path which Spokane Valley council members now want to pursue. In meetings earlier this year, some members expressed frustration with the county’s operation. Haley said the city “feels a little left out” and not in agreement with “everything that’s happened.”
Over the past four years, said Mantz, Spokane Valley’s share of HHAA funds has ranged between a high of $1.06 million in 2021 to a low of $658,000 in 2019. The city’s share went toward Spokane County’s administration of a homeless shelter operated by Volunteers of America and the Salvation Army, the acquisition and rehabilitation of a shelter for young adults by the Volunteers of America, and outreach efforts by various partners to the homeless community.
In transition, Spokane Valley officials said they will coordinate with the county but contracts in place this year between the two jurisdictions would not be affected.
Mantz said the state Department of Commerce requires five-year plans for HHAA programs. So, over the next three months, task force members will propose recommendations for 2024, the final year of the current 2020-2024 planning period. Then they are expected to make recommendations on the task force’s final composition and, by the end of 2024, on a new five-year plan for 2025-2029.
When the city begins receiving its local share of state funding, at least 75% of the monies must be used for developing strategies and objectives of the local homeless housing plan, 10% can go toward administrative costs, and 15% can be used for activities which serve extremely and very low income households.
Those activities could include acquisition, construction, operation or maintenance of housing projects, rental assistance vouchers and operating costs for emergency and youth shelters.
Incorporated as a city in 2003, Spokane Valley has grown significantly in the past 20 years and has an estimated population of over 107,000 residents. In that time, both the city and the region have seen increased homelessness, an issue facing many urban areas.
In an email reply to The Center Square, Mantz said estimating the number of people experiencing homelessness within Spokane Valley “is a challenge” due to their transient nature, seasonal weather and other factors.
But under the federal Housing and Urban Development definition of “literally homeless,” it’s estimated the number ranges between 100 and 120 individuals at any give time, Mantz said.
The number goes higher when considering children who do not have a stable, primary night-time residence, she said. Based on the McKinney-Vento Act, Spokane Valley schools estimate there are approximately 700 students who could be considered homeless.
“This would include children/families that are doubled up, couch surfing, staying in a motel, etc.,” said Mantz. “Multiply this number by any non-school-aged siblings those students may have and their parent (or) caregivers and the number would be close to several thousand.”