August 11, 2008

Affordable Housing: Let's Build Something

The Regional Affordable Housing Task Force that’s working on a solution to one of our more critical problems is alive and well and moving forward. Our 19 member panel has spent the past several weeks learning about the scope of the problem, where to find money for affordable housing projects and researching what other communities are doing.

And so far, so good. Most members are engaged, thoughtful and seem willing to create something that will actually make a dent in a large but generally hidden problem in our community. But ask any developer and they’ll tell you that our region is full of people who will eventually support well conceived and innovative initiatives but only if they first see something tangible.


Far too often well meaning people are thrown together with the goal of creatively solving big problems. Hours are spent in meetings, thousands of words are uttered, money is spent and hundreds of trees are sacrificed in order to publish splashy reports that are proudly presented to local governments where they are immediately shelved and forgotten.

We have an opportunity to be different. Here’s my suggestion: let’s devise, finance and actually build a unique, affordable housing, pilot-project to show the region that something significant and worthwhile can be accomplished. Completing an affordable housing project that includes the public and private sectors as well as non-profit agencies will establish credibility and help ease the way for future projects.

Such a demonstration project should be centered on an existing or planned urban transit center and provide specific development incentives including:

  • Performance based zoning
  • SEPA exemption
  • Parking ratio changes
  • Certainty in permit processing time
  • Planned action EIS Infrastructure funding from local jurisdictions
  • A program similar to Austin, TX’s S.M.A.R.T. that expedites permits, allows fee waivers and uses local governmental housing staff members to resolve development related issues.

Creating an innovative and unique project such as this would give the Task Force and any future partners something solid and beneficial to work toward. It would also be a lot of fun and could show the rest of the country that the best ideas come from the Inland Northwest.

August 5, 2008

Mayor Should Thank the Council

All those who agree that the Spokane City Council has just saved Mayor Mary Verner from a huge embarrassment raise their hands. Thought so.

The Mayor was pushing council members to put a $27 million bond issue on the November ballot to pay for a new police evidence locker and animal shelter. I recently suggested that Verner may have a good idea but that she needed to slow down, create a sound case and persuasive communication strategy before asking voters to spend that much money. Why? Her idea which popped up about two weeks ago needs 60% approval---she got less than half that from the City Council. Imagine what the voters would have done.

So now Verner must take advantage of the extra time to build her case which should include:

· Researching and deciding exactly what we need and why.
· Getting unanimous City Council support for her plan.
· Clear, consistent and compelling messages that resonate with voters.
· Creating a robust public outreach and media strategy.
· Finding the right team to run what is tantamount to a political campaign.

Council members seem to agree that we may need to spend millions of dollars on these proposals and have offered to work with the Mayor to prioritize what to build and how to pay for them. Verner needs to optimize this cooperative spirit and move forward as soon as possible. Otherwise, stalled momentum and growing opposition will team up to stop what might be necessary public benefits. Spokane has seen that too often---let’s not see it again.

August 1, 2008

Self Promotion

OK---I admit it---this is shameless self promotion---a rather vile habit that I learned while working with a guy at KHQ who still repeats his name every other sentence during live shots. So forgive me---but in my defense this does show that I've actually accomplished a few things this summer while having lot of fun at the same time!

Let me know what you think.

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The Davenport