Housing Levy-Tonight

“The Housing Levy” Ordinance will be addressed this evening at the Spokane City Council. Today I want to use this ordinance as a civics lesson for myself and my readers. The issue was flagged to me in a blanket email sent me by an interest group whose work I respect, FUSE Washington. I encourage you (after further reading) to register your comments on “The Housing Levy” with your City Council members this morning in advance of this afternoon’s and evening’s meeting. FUSE has set up an easy way to send an email which you can access here. Another good option is to go to the City Council Members page from where you can email individual members of the Council or offer a blanket comment to all of them (in the right hand column). My guess is that numbers of favorable comments are probably more important than eloquence or numbers of words.

Civics Lesson:

This evening in the course of their electronic meeting the City of Spokane City Council will consider ORD C35982, aka “The Housing Levy.” This is our local government at work. Marching and demonstrating is often necessary to draw attention to issues, but the process of working toward solutions for issues surfaces at meetings like this. Thanks to the wonders of TV and the internet you can watch, listen in, and even participate (in a limited way) at the November 30 Briefing Session at 3:30PM and/or the Legislative Session at 6:30PM. Click that link to watch from the comfort of your home some of the work your elected city officials actually do. 

On the City Council Agenda for November 30 ORD C35982 appears first on page 8, mid-page. This short intro is pretty dry and bland:

Imposing a sales and use tax for the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of attainable housing and for housing-related supportive services; and enacting a new chapter 07.08C of the Spokane Municipal Code. (Council Sponsor: Council Members Wilkerson, Stratton and

To read the details of ORD C35982 you have to scroll down to page 448 in the 735 page agenda (at least those are the page numbers in the pdf file). [Useful trick: CMD-F on my computer offers a window. Pasting or typing “ORD C35982” in that window shows there are three instances in which ORD C35982 appears in the whole 735 page document. Clicking takes you right there. Voila!] I encourage you to click on the agenda link (repeated here), skim a little and then navigate to pdf page 448 to look at the actual “Ordinance” (“a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority”). 

The summary of ORD C35982 on page 445 clarifies a lot:

The Washington state legislature has authorized, by passing HB 1590, cities and counties to impose an additional 0.1% sales and use tax, provided that the revenues from that tax must be spent on the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of affordable housing, and on housing-related supportive services. This ordinance imposes the sales and use tax, describes project funding priorities, sets a sunset date, and provides a framework for application review and project funding recommendations.

That is 1/10 of a penny on a dollar purchase made within the City of Spokane. That levy should raise $4,100,000 for local use to start to address the issue of affordable housing. Put another way, the levy is one dollar on a $1000 purchase, a collective tiny tithe for the good of the community. 

Anyone paying attention knows that housing in Spokane is really tight, downright unaffordable for many. This proposed ordinance is our local government working to provide some relief. ORD C35982 did not materialize in a vacuum. It builds on a law passed by the WA State Legislature and signed by the governor on March 31, 2020, HB 1590, “Allowing the local sales and use tax for affordable housing to be imposed by a councilmanic authority.” Take-home point: municipal and county government action is circumscribed by the state constitution and state law–one small example of “the rule of law” and the importance of understanding how all this works in civil society. The ability of the City of Spokane City Council to consider and pass ORD C35982 rests on someone’s idea, the drafting of the language of HB 1590, the efforts of our state legislators, the governor, the drafters of ORD C35982, and the City Council members who support it. Who knew?

It will be very, very interesting to track the news coverage of ORD C35982. If the City Council passes the ordinance this evening, will the Spokesman article about it be titled “City Council Imposes Yet Another Tax on Spokane” or “City Council Takes a Step to Address Affordable Housing”? That is, will the news coverage light up the anti-tax mind frame or the “let’s help out our fellow citizens” mind frame. We will see.

Keep to the high ground,