Recent census data has shown housing inventory in Washington state to be the lowest in the country – and the Spokane numbers are even worse. With only roughly a two-to-three-week supply of homes, leaders within the Spokane Association of REALTORS® knew they needed a plan with a powerful list of recommendations… and fast. Enter the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE,) an international volunteer organization of renowned industry experts, who provided an objective assessment of the market conditions and roadblocks to affordable housing success in Spokane, and guidance for moving forward using best practices and success stories from similar U.S. cities.
Tom Clark, a past President and the current Government Affairs Chair of the Spokane Association of REALTORS®, explains, “We decided we needed to take a leadership role and be the vehicle of change. Although we trusted our own numbers, we were concerned we weren’t going to get buy-in from the city without confirmation by a credible third party. Bringing in the CRE consulting team, which interviewed many of our City Council members, has given us credibility and has shown the city what can be accomplished. It was a positive solution-oriented approach, rather than ‘poke the bear.’” The CRE application process was strenuous, he admits, and required a heavy lift to demonstrate the full scope of Spokane’s situation. But once their project had been accepted, the payoff was remarkable: a CRE Consulting Corps team including experts in housing, economics, and policy making came to town, conducted over thirty interviews with lawmakers, developers, and other housing stakeholders, and applied their considerable brain power and national perspective to the city’s housing challenges. The result was an 89-page Action Steps to Increase Spokane’s Housing Supply report with a roadmap of proven solutions for the city of Spokane, addressing everything from in-fill development to leadership and staffing of the municipal Planning Department.
Government Affairs Director Darin Watkins has determined that the actual consulting value of the project is nearly $400K; the cost to the Spokane REALTORS® was just $35K, which was shared by funding authorized by its own board, augmented by contributions from the state association and the local Home Builders Association, and a Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party. In putting the funding together, notes Watkins, the REALTORS® built a strong coalition that will be critical in carrying out the work recommended by the report.
The REALTORS® leveraged the presence and expertise of the CRE team by hosting a press conference focused on big news elements like soaring rents and the inaccessibility of the local housing market, especially for young people and families. The association created a dedicated webpage to serve as a complete repository of information, giving busy members the opportunity to review the substance of the report at their own pace, rather than just skimming the headlines.
The REALTORS® are determined to keep this valuable report at front-of-mind among Spokane’s decision makers, and they’re already working with city leaders to host a regional housing summit to bring stakeholders together to put these recommendations into play. “Everybody the CRE team spoke to recognized the housing situation as a crisis,” reports Watkins. “This is no longer just a business issue,” he notes, “it’s a real social issue that everyone can get behind. No matter where our neighbors stand politically, there’s an angle that matters to them, and that’s where we have to meet them. If their issue is climate change, we start a conversation about increasing density to lessen the impact of cars commuting. There are going to be multiple approaches and many solutions to the challenges we’re facing, and in the year since our efforts began, the report has already helped change the narrative in a positive direction.”
The reaction among association membership has been very positive. “REALTORS® here believe this project is critical to our future,” said Watkins. “The backing by the REALTOR® Party plays a key role in helping us defend the rights of housing!”
To learn more about how the Spokane Association of REALTORS® is working to alleviate the region’s housing crisis by building coalitions and studying best practices from similar cities nationwide, contact Government Affairs Director Darin Watkins at email@example.com or 509.595.2012. To review the CRE report for the city of Spokane, visit https://www.spokanerealtor.com/counselors/.