The case of Spokane, Washington highlights how communities want to grow and be popular but they do not necessarily want what comes with the growth:
Whether it’s Boise, Idaho, or Reno, Nevada, or Portland, Oregon, or Austin, Texas, the American housing market is caught in a vicious cycle of broken expectations that operates like a food chain: The sharks flee New York and Los Angeles and gobble up the housing in Austin and Portland, whose priced-out homebuyers swim to the cheaper feeding grounds of places like Spokane. The cycle brings bitterness and “Don’t Move Here” bumper stickers — and in Spokane it has been supercharged during the pandemic and companies’ shift to remote work.
No matter how many times it happens, no matter how many cities and states try to blunt it with recommendations to build more housing and provide subsidies for those who can’t afford the new stuff, no matter how many zoning battles are fought or homeless camps lamented, no next city, as of yet, seems better prepared than the last one was…
All of this happened fairly recently. In the years after the Great Recession, when homebuilders were in bankruptcy or hibernation, migration to the Spokane area plunged. That pattern shifted in 2014 when, as if a switch had been flipped, waves of migrants started arriving as already high-cost cities like Seattle and San Francisco saw their housing markets go into a tech-fueled frenzy…
Five years ago, a little over half the homes in the Spokane area sold for less than $200,000, and about 70% of its employed population could afford to buy a home, according to a recent report commissioned by the Spokane Association of Realtors. Now fewer than 5% of homes — a few dozen a month — sell for less than $200,000, and less than 15% of the area’s employed population can afford a home. A recent survey by Redfin, the real estate brokerage, showed that homebuyers moving to Spokane in 2021 had a budget 23% higher than what locals had…
Last year, Woodward declared a housing emergency, and her administration has put in place initiatives that mirror those of housing-troubled cities on the West Coast. The city has built new shelters, is encouraging developers to repurpose commercial buildings into apartments, is making it easier for residents to build backyard units, and is rezoning the city to allow duplexes and other multiunit buildings in single-family neighborhoods.
The primary focus here is on housing and the increase in prices. From what is described above, a good number of long-time residents now struggle to find decent housing. This is indeed a problem to consider.
I would guess there are other changes as well: increased business activity, more traffic, newcomers operating in local civic organizations and institutions. Many of these changes are assumed to be good in most communities: growth means status, activity, and increased tax revenues. Sure, there are some externalities – sprawl and what comes with it, changes to how things have been – but these are often viewed as growing pains. Growth is good.
The implication in this story is that this could happen to any community: people from the outside discover an undiscovered location and their moves drive up housing costs. Yet, I wonder how true this is. Will people in overheated housing markets really go anywhere or only to certain locations? Spokane is within a particular region plus has its own features and its own history. Would people from the coasts end up in Youngstown, Ohio or Fargo, North Dakota, Jackson, Mississippi, or Detroit, Michigan where there is plenty of cheaper housing and distinct local character? The housing game may not just be an endless one where those with resources are always searching out the next cheaper market; there are limits to where people go and invest their resources.
Targeted incentive programs – described here – might help with this issue as communities seek out particular kinds of residents they would like. If those programs turned into floods of people, how many would really want to turn that down?