It has been a long-known secret that municipalities in Eastern Washington are growing faster than their infrastructure or housing supplies can handle.
Residential occupancy rates and increased labor needs — key economic indicators of growth — in cities like Cheney, Spokane, Wenatchee, and Leavenworth are at record highs. Goods and services integral to the feeding and functioning of this region, this nation, and beyond, have made our rural home a rare epicenter in the new industrial revolution.
The emergence of big data as a commodity comparable to wheat, beef, and oil, has rocked the global economy from Shanghai to London. And our companies consistently disrupt trade and innovate sectors of electrical, industrial, and agricultural engineering. “The Valley” flits off the lips of big money players in New York and San Francisco, and they don’t mean San Jose or Napa.
Still, many cities in the region are busting at the seams.
The spiral of homelessness and drug addiction cripples communities across the state. Residents are forced to neighboring towns. Conversely, longtime residents of those towns feel new economic pressure. On top of that, incoming professional laborers and their families, as well as children returning to make a life back home, must choose between expensive crumbling rental houses or equally expensive units in a luxury mega-complex. So why is there nothing in-between? Why can’t we increase affordable, amenable, and attractive housing and business centers without demolishing the hearts and souls of the towns we love?
Part of it has to do with conflicting policies issued by state, local, and regional entities. For example, The Greater East Wenatchee Area Comprehensive Plan has called for “Housing that is available to all income levels.” If this were true, more residential properties would exist. However, the current policy as approved by the Washington State Growth Management Act, restricts many urban parts of East Wenatchee from allowing the development of multifamily or mixed-use properties.
Other problems abound: the stigma and gap between public policy, developers, and residents has grown over the years. Despite local share offerings, residency exchanges, levies, and community spending, many residents see developers as disruptive guests. On the other side of the coin, county, state, municipal and federal authorities compete for the same internal and external resources.
There are many innovative thinkers, and a large capital market, eager to support a long-term vision for Eastern Washington. It doesn’t have to sprawl, and it doesn’t have to get too tall, but it does require a coordinated effort between multiple government agencies, community organizations, financial institutions, and developers. Right now, that doesn’t exist.
If communities and developers can identify a mix of out-of-code structures requiring demolition, or viable rehabilitation projects, and new development zones, there is no shortage of resources available to meet the needs of the cities and towns of this region. Only by working together can we identify the path we need and make the case necessary to see it through.
Paul Bondo is COO of Real Estate Acquisition and Development for Equilus Capital Partners and has been involved in residential and commercial development for over 30 years. Tavis Hamilton is the Marketing Director of Equilus Capital Partners and has worked in development and construction.