Spokane City Council eyes $13 million for child care, affordable housing and more with American Rescue Plan funding

<p><p>The Spokane City Council reviewed its first batch of funding proposals from the American Rescue Plan on Thursday, including requests to support affordable housing projects and child care providers.</p></p><p><p>The proposals total $13.2 million, a significant first chunk of $81 million the city received through the American Rescue Plan adopted by Congress in March.</p></p><p><p>Council President Breean Beggs said during a study session the list introduced Thursday was compiled in response to community priorities, including those highlighted during an online survey and recent American Rescue Plan public forums.</p></p><p><p>No formal decisions were made on Thursday. Instead, the meeting served as a starting point to review potential ways to spend American Rescue Plan money.</p></p><p><p>The council has received about 130 proposals and begun reviewing them through its three-member American Rescue Plan work group, which sorts through ideas and presents those it favors to the full City Council for review.</p></p><p><p>After Thursday’s discussion – which saw broad agreement on the funding concepts – the council work group now plans to draft detailed requests for proposals, which still require a vote from the full City Council.</p></p><p><p>Mayor Nadine Woodward expressed frustration with the process, noting a resolution adopted by the council in September calls on the administration to provide feedback “<a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/sep/27/spokane-city-council-finalizes-american-rescue-pla” target=”_blank”>within five business days</a>.”</p></p><p><p>But all the administration received were “one-liners,” Woodward told The Spokesman-Review.</p></p><p><p>“I don’t know how you can make decisions based on the information that’s been provided,” Woodward said.</p></p><p><p>Beggs said he sent the administration a list of potential items for funding in October, then again last week, and made adjustments based on the administration’s concerns.</p></p><p><p>As for the lack of detail, Beggs said “our process is that we’re not going to that specificity until we have a general agreement (within City Council) that we’re going forward.”</p></p><p><p>The biggest ticket item on the council’s list is $6 million to help nonprofits develop affordable housing. The council was given a list of 12 projects by the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium that are already underway but require additional funding to be completed.</p></p><p><p>The city would aim for these projects to be completed by July 2023.</p></p><p><p>At this point, the proposal does not identify specific housing projects to receive backing. Rather, the city would issue a request for proposals and solicit responses from housing providers.</p></p><p><p>Another $2 million proposal would create a program to help first-time home buyers who earn less than 80% of the area median income put a down payment on a home.</p></p><p><p>Given the current cost of housing, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear questioned how the down payment assistance would be of use for a homebuyer at the required income level.</p></p><p><p>Beggs noted the city program already exists in pilot form, and it offers a significant down payment to ensure that the homeowner’s monthly payments are affordable.</p></p><p><p>“It is a model that is currently getting people into housing who otherwise would never be able to,” Beggs said.</p></p><p><p>Citing community surveys that rank child care high on the list of priorities, the council is also considering offering $1 million to add slots at child care providers.</p></p><p><p>In another effort to support employment, the council is contemplating spending $1 million to aid workers in the arts sector who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.</p></p><p><p>The council is also contemplating spending $1.5 million to upgrade park play equipment and bathrooms, particularly those in low-income census tracts.</p></p><p><p>Kinnear noted the dearth of information included in the proposals.</p></p><p><p>But members of the American Rescue Plan work group, including Beggs and Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, replied that Thursday’s informational session was to gather feedback from council members before fleshing out a full proposal.</p></p><p><p>“This is kind of like step one, and then we’ll go on to step two,” Wilkerson said.</p></p><p><p>The proposals discussed Thursday do not include any money to compensate the city for its own revenue losses during COVID-19. The <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/nov/09/spokane-mayor-finalizes-11-billion-budget-proposal” target=”_blank”>budget proposed by Woodward estimated that the city lost about $21 million</a> during the pandemic.</p></p><p><p>The administration plans to apply for funds to compensate the city for its losses through the council’s American Rescue Plan process.</p></p>