‘We’re trying’: Local families live in hotels because of tight housing market, scared they’ll end up on the streets

SPOKANE, Wash. — Housing unaffordability continues to critical people in the Inland Northwest. Many are doing whatever they can, so they don’t end up living on the streets. New research from the University of Washington sheds light on just how connected affordable housing is to homelessness.

The Labuguens have been living out of the Downtowner Motel for around six months. It’s more than they’ve had in the past.

“We’re trying. We came up from living in a tent into where we’re literally able to stay stable in a hotel,” said Jacob Labuguen. He works at Amazon, gets paid to give plasma and is selling personal belongings to make ends meet.

The Labuguen’s are in a hotel because the base rate is all they can afford, and moving into an apartment requires more.

“We pay almost $1,300 a month which is what we would pay for if we got a one-bedroom apartment, but we don’t qualify for the one-bedroom apartments because we have to make two, three, four times the income or have a credit score of 600 – 650 and we don’t have that,” said Melanie Labuguen.

They’re not alone, because the Inland Northwest doesn’t have enough housing options to help people find stability.

“When you layer a really tight housing market with individual vulnerabilities, that produces homelessness,” said Gregg Colburn. He just co-authored a new book: Homelessness is a Housing Problem based on the homelessness crisis he sees in Seattle working as a professor at the University of Washington.

While the Inland Northwest hasn’t hit a tipping point like other West Coast cities, he says if the trajectory doesn’t change, the outcomes will be detrimental.

“If you continue to have housing market dynamics where rents continue to escalate at the rate they are, vacancies are really low — you will without a doubt have a housing crisis,” he added.

The national rental vacancy is just over 5%. In Washington, it’s 3.6%. Idaho’s statewide vacancy rate is 4.8%. The local outlook is even more grim. Spokane is sitting around a 1% vacancy rate while a healthy market should be 5% or higher. You can see more of this vacancy breakdown HERE.

Colburn hopes local officials can get a handle on these low numbers before it’s too late.

“I want to be able to have a key to my own place,” Jacob said.

You can read more about Colburn’s new book and research HERE.

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