CIVICS | Spokane City Council is expected to have final readings on the pavement to people ordinance and an ordinance to figure out how to have a regional homelessness authority.
When we saw the Spokane City Council agenda this week, we found ourselves saying IT’S HAPPENING. That’s because after a month of technical difficulties, we’re going to finally get the final reading of the contentious landlord-tenant ordinance.
That is not, however, all there is to get excited about this week. Other actions scheduled for Monday night are aimed at the housing crisis too, including an ordinance that would establish a tax deferral program for affordable housing and taking the next steps to create a regional homelessness authority (spoiler, it’s doing more studies).
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Spokane City Council
Landlord-tenant ordinance: The technical difficulties of the last month — which led the council to defer any contentious items until they were solved — also conveniently gave them more time to hammer out the details so that maybe both sides could be a little happier.
Back in January, before the delay, the council had put out a new version of the ordinance that tenant advocates felt was much weaker on landlords than previous drafts. To us, some of the new wording seemed vague and unclear. Advocates now seem happier with the latest version of the ordinance and are encouraging people to write to city council to vote yes on the ordinance.
Meanwhile, advocates for landlords, like the Spokane Association for Realtors, are calling in their troops to tell the council to vote against it. Their primary argument is that the city already doesn’t have enough code enforcement officers to enforce the laws we already have and this wouldn’t help. It’s unclear if they actually understand the ordinance because the fees the ordinance imposes on landlords are specifically to provide the city more funding for code enforcement. They also seem to repeat fearmonger-y talking points that we’ve already debunked, specifically about the portable background checks (formerly known as “universal background checks”) being too restrictive for landlords. They say this even though the ordinance leaves room for any background check company to get on the list of approved companies.
We’re working on a deeper dive of what this ordinance entails, but here are some highlights of the changes in the latest version:
- Landlords still have to get a $127/year Spokane business license (this has been a law for a long time, it just hasn’t been enforced) and register their units each year.
- Landlords with more than 25 units also have to pay an annual $25 fee per unit per year. The per-unit fee has increased, but the number of units a landlord owns before the fee must be paid has risen from 4 in the original drafts to 25. This appears to be a compromise to appease “mom and pop” landlords while still providing enough funding for code enforcement.
- Property owners or their managers have to provide a digital link to a web page the city Office of Civil Rights, Equity and Inclusion will create that includes a voter registration form, change of address form, and a packet of tenant rights and responsibilities. This was removed from the prior version, but it’s back.
- Landlords or their property management companies must maintain all move-in and move-out inspection records for three years.
- Landlords or managers must self-inspect the unit before renting to make sure it meets requirements of housing codes. Executing any rental agreement will act as a certification that they did that.
- The code enforcement department can conduct periodic and cause-based inspections as long as the tenant or a judge consents.
- Code enforcement can transfer funds to the Office of Civil Rights, Equity and Inclusion to create a dedicated position of a Rental Housing Navigator to serve as a resource for landlords and tenants.
- 70% of business registration fees for rental units will go into the “code enforcement fund” and these funds can only be used for the rental registry and expenses related to code enforcement. This part of the fund ostensibly benefits tenants by funding the office that would make sure their place is habitable.
- 10% of the business registration fees will go into the “residential rental property mitigation fund” to pay for damages to rental properties providing housing to low income people. This part of the fund theoretically helps landlords recoup damage to their properties.
Passing a joint (statement): In a beginning step toward a Spokane regional homelessness authority, the city council is going to vote to endorse a joint statement that announces a 90-day “due diligence period” that community leaders and groups involved will use to figure out how to create such a system. The period will focus on possible legal structures, such as a Public Development Authority, a private nonprofit or something else. It’ll also review possible governance models, funding sources, data collection and use, staffing and establish performance metrics — essentially the stats that’ll be used to figure out if it’s even working.
The statement will also be signed by the Spokane mayor, and representatives of the city of Spokane Valley and Spokane County. Read our coverage of what a regional homelessness authority is here.
Historic district: The city council will have a first reading of an ordinance that would create a new historic district called the Cannon Streetcar Suburb Historic District in the Cliff-Cannon Neighborhood. The historic status would create tax incentives and open grant opportunities for home improvements. We wrote a bit about it before when it was in Plan Commission and stay tuned for more reporting on it from Carl this week.
Final reading bonanza: We have a bunch of ordinances and resolutions that are having their final readings and hearings on Monday. These happen to be things we’ve written about before, so we’re going to do a speed run here:
- City council will have the final hearing for an ordinance that would establish a sales tax deferral program to incentivize developers to build affordable housing in underutilized downtown parking lots. We wrote about it in Civics a few weeks ago and you can read even more detail from Emry Dinman at the Spokesman here.
- Another ordinance would charge water customers a basic water service charge even when water is turned off temporarily, like for vacation homes. Find it under “water bills” in this civics.
- Council is set to vote on an ordinance that would vacate a small public street near Highbridge Park that would make way for Catholic Charities to build a low-income housing development. More here under “low-income housing incoming.”
Public Infrastructure, Environment and Sustainability (PIES) Committee
General Facility Charges: Remember that building moratorium city council set up for the Latah Valley area last fall? That was put in place so they could reassess and update General Facilities Charges and now they’re doing it. GFCs are a one-time fee for new utility connections meant to pay for a share of the cost it takes to provide capacity for the systems. The city established a GFC charge for water and sewer back in 2002, but didn’t set up a way for the charges to keep up with inflation or growth.
Now public works is recommending an updated GFC ordinance that would have an updated fee schedule, an inflationary index, eliminate waivers and be reassessed every 3-5 years. The updated GFCs would only apply to new projects that don’t have a building permit or an application already submitted.
No more free solar: Back in 2018, the city council approved an ordinance that waives the building and construction permit fees related to installing solar energy systems in an effort to encourage renewable energy. That was all fine and dandy back then when there were only 70-80 solar permits per year. But now the city is seeing significantly more solar permits (605 in 2022) and the departments doing the permitting aren’t being compensated. According to the agenda packet, this has led to at least $63,765 of waived revenue since 2019. A new ordinance would repeal the section of the code that waives permitting fees for solar energy systems.
Conservation Master Plan update: The packet is thin on details, but the PIES committee will get a review and update on the Water Conservation Master Plan adopted in 2020. Water department staff will review the 2022 conservation efforts by the city and future strategies.
Board of County Commissioners
Money for homeless housing: The county commissioners are set to approve $1.5 million worth of agreements with local homeless shelter providers through the Homeless Housing Assistance Act through the end of the year. Most of the awards will go to shelter operation and maintenance costs of the shelters, homeless prevention and street outreach.
Minecraft in Spokane!: The commissioners are set to approve $25,000 to go to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture to support a Minecraft exhibition. There aren’t many details on the exhibition itself, but Minecraft has been a massively popular game across all ages for more than a decade. The contract says the exhibition will run from September to December 2023, that the museum will use the county funding for advertising and promotion, and that they expect about 40,000 people to come to see the exhibit from throughout the region.
Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.
Public Works Building
1026 W Broadway, Spokane, WA
Commissioner’s Hearing Room, Lower Level