North Notes
Spokane North Rotary Club Bulletin
November 21, 2016
          Field trip: On Nov. 28 the club will visit District 81’s HOPE (Hearing Oral Program of Excellence) School at 310 N. Riverpoint Blvd.   Unmetered parking is limited to just one hour – and closely monitored – so plug parking meters for 90 minutes or so.
          Think Christmas: Gift coordinator Sandy Fink has distributed 40 gift tags for 40 kids in Holmes Elementary School families.  Members are choosing from among four suggested gifts for each child and should limit total spending to $35 for each child, so children in the same families do not receive more or less than others. Gifts, due by Dec. 5, should be wrapped, labeled and signed with the giver’s name or “Rotary North.” The code letter for each family should be listed on the backside of the gift tag.  That is how we will differeniate which gifts are for which families.
Building homes builds the economy
          “The home is central to American life.”
          Adding meaning to that motto for the club on Nov. 21 was Joel White, executive officer of the Spokane Home Builders Association.
          The meeting was the second part of an in-depth look at construction and building issues in Spokane.  The previous week, Cheryl Stewart, executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors talked about construction of “everything but homes” in Spokane.
          White has served as SHBA’s top executive since December 2005.  The 700-member association, founded in 1947, serves members in Ferry, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties.
          The SHBA website alphabetically lists scores of builders and vendors in dozens of categories, from “acoustical contractors” to “woodworking.”  SHBA’s offices, at 5813 E. Fourth, house a staff of seven, with a 16-member board of directors.
          White described the 10-year “roller-coaster ride” of housing from boom to recession-era busts and a noticeable recovery.  He said SHBA membership grew to 1,200 members, then dropped to 500 and has grown back to its current roster of 700.
          He said some 3,800 “home units” were built in 2005, but dropped below half that total during the recessionary years that followed.  The total has rebounded to 2,800 units in the last year, but White worries that too many units are in multiple-family structures.
          The renters, including many “millennials” and others unwilling or unable to take on home ownership, are far more transient and tend to be less-invested in their community, White said.  “Multi-family is tied to low-income and Spokane is a low-income community,” he said, adding, “home prices are going up, but they should be rising much faster.”  Spokane’s home price “sweet spot” for new construction is $200,000 to $250,000, about half of Seattle’s, he said.
          Club members Eric Johnson, a Realtor, and Brad Stark, financial advisor and former city councilman, added perspective from the audience to White’s comments.
          Johnson said Spokane is at or near a “record low inventory” with fewer than 1,000 homes for sale on lots of one half-acre or less.  He added that instead of more rentals downtown, what’s needed is more townhouse and condominium ownership.
          Since remodeling of older homes is one SHBA focus, Stark asked about renovating some of the deteriorating small homes built in the early 1950s in Northwest Spokane.  White said it would take a coordinated effort, including economic incentives, to do that on a widespread basis.
          White said Spokane is growing at “only one percent a year, “not a strong growth rate.”  He said when he worked in Clark County in southwest Washington, the growth rate was three percent, “almost too fast” for schools and infrastructure to keep pace.  “Two percent is good,” White said.
          Among the other issues concerning the SHBA, White said, are “workforce,” (low pay overall and too few manufacturing jobs), new regulations on development and banking, (“you couldn’t build Kendall Yards today”), lack of large build-able sites (“the city says there is plenty of land for new homes, but where?”) and even water rights (a State Supreme Court ruling in a Whatcom County case challenges development anywhere near rivers statewide, including the Spokane and Little Spokane).
          For the short-term future of housing units, White said, “you will see higher density in the city and more rental units.”
          White says the “impact of housing” is undeniable.  “Every home built creates three permanent jobs and contributes $80,000 to $90,000 in (various) taxes.”
The bulletin producers:
Bulletin editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photo: Eric Johnson
Program coordinator: Brad Stark