Council approves loan for Ridpath Affordable Housing & Central City Line Application: 4.17.17 and 4.24.17 Meetings Recap

Council had a fairly short legislative agenda on Monday, April 17th. We did vote to approve the Spokane Human Rights Commission’s 2017 Work Program on a 7-0 vote. Congrats to the members of that group for their detailed plan and for the strong participation of its members. Some of the areas they are addressing in 2017: human trafficking, educating regarding LGBTQ rights, housing policies.

On Monday, April 24th, Council addressed several exciting proposals and voted to approve them. First, Council considered a resolution in support of an application for Federal Transit Administration Small Starts Funding for the Central City Line project.

After several years of work preparing the application and many community conversations, STA is finally ready to send in a full application for the bus rapid transit project to the Federal government to be rated against other projects across the country. Council voted 5-1 (Beggs absent, Fagan opposed) in support of sending in the $50M+ application to match state and local operating dollars. I’ve been the chair of the Central City Line Steering Committee over the past 18 months and I can tell you that STA and its contractors have done a great job making the case for funding for this project, which will run from Spokane Community College, through the U District and Downtown to Browne’s Addition and will feature all-day, frequent service with comfortable stations and quiet electric buses.

Council also voted to approve a loan for the development of affordable housing in the old Ridpath Hotel. After 8 years of closure and at least 5 years of blight and ownership problems with this building, there is a proposal by Ron Wells, a local housing developer to develop 179 units of affordable housing with a mixture of financing, including private loans, state affordable housing loans and tax credits. The city’s financial investment would be a long-term, low-interest loan of $1.75M in federal housing dollars that were used to fund redevelopment of affordable units and were paid back to the City over the past 25 years (some of those were paid back by Mr. Wells for previous housing efforts). These are Federal dollars designated for affordable housing redevelopment and cannot be used for other city services.

Council spent many weeks reviewing the information regarding this loan and having conversations with staff and community members. I received comments from constituents in favor of providing the loan because of a desire to have more affordable housing options in the price range that will be offered at the Ridpath (for example: 1 bdrm max rent of $705 including internet and utilities). Also, the Ridpath has been a blight on an entire Downtown City block, which has prevented adjoining properties from being redeveloped. Positive activity and long-term residents would bring a new energy to this corner of Downtown. I also received comments from constituents who were concerned about making the loan for a variety of reasons. There was fear that the loan would not be paid back to the City if the project went under. Also, if the money wouldn’t be better spent in other parts of the City.

In the end, I voted to approve the loan (5-1, Fagan opposed, Beggs absent). I was convinced that this was the best chance the City has had to redevelop the building and ensure 20+ years of affordable housing for working people, students and single young professionals in Downtown. It is truly a historic building and and opportunity property. I believe directing the Federal dollars that were paid back to the City towards this project is an appropriate and strategic approach to growing additional investment and increasing safety and housing for a key demographic in Downtown Spokane.