New affordable housing could be a disaster for Pullman market

Programming, development could force families to remain in poverty for support


Harrina Hwang | Daily Evergreen File

New development can cause a market surplus that will effect low-income households.

SAAD NABIL ALI, Evergreen columnist

Confirmation of plans for the new affordable housing project in Pullman, promoted by the Community Action Center, has had many relishing in its potential.

“Our goal at CAC is to help every Whitman County resident improve their ability to be in stable housing and to increase long-term self-sufficiency,” said Jeff Guyett, executive director of the CAC in a statement reported by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.

The funding, a whopping $800,000 granted by the Washington State Housing Trust, was awarded to the CAC for meeting the requisite criteria for building affordable housing.

“We considered a combination of factors, including a delayed capital budget, the current affordable housing and homelessness crisis around the state and the high level of project readiness displayed in the 2017 application pool,” said Corina Grigoras, managing director of the housing finance unit at the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, funded by various federal and state agencies, low-income families will be able to receive rental assistance and accommodations for as long as they qualify.

But with no limit to the period of participation, families are backed into a corner with essentially no incentive to exit these housing programs.

The CAC surely means well in its pursuits to provide affordable housing for low-income households. However, from an analytical stand point, it would appear that the main driving forces of these projects are not rooted in necessity, rather stemming from the ability to undercut the market, stunt income mobility and induce low-income households to perpetuate the cycle.

Since the WSDOC reflects a decrease in homelessness over the past couple of years in Pullman and the greater Whitman county area, this cannot be the reason for the continual growth in affordable housing projects.

The poverty rate in Pullman is around 25.9 percent, making it one of the poorest cities in Washington, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This figure, however, has never been adjusted for the students that attend Washington State University and make up a substantial portion of the population.

“Because the census treats students living apart from their families in off-campus households … it has been recognized that in communities with high numbers of post-secondary students relative to total population poverty figures are distorted,” according to the League of Women Voters of Pullman.

When accounting for this distortion, the numbers are rather telling.

“For the city of Pullman the adjustment was from a poverty rate of 44.8 percent to one of 20.9 percent,” the league reports.

Unemployment has also generally been listed among the reasons for the surge of these developments, but this has no statistical bearing either.

Just this year, Forbes ranked Pullman as the No.1 manufacturing small city in the nation.

“[Pullman] has 60 percent more industrial jobs per capita than the national average and since 2007 has more than doubled its industrial employment to nearly 2,800,” Forbes reports.

There’s no ability to take advantage of the economic gains offered in Pullman long-term without being withdrawn from programs like Section 8, which allow low-income people to remain in subsidized homes.

“Participants are responsible for reporting changes in income or household make-up. Failure to do so can result in termination from the program. These must be reported, but depending on the amount and how the funds are used, they may not affect the rental assistance,” the league reports.

Ultimately, having subsidized housing inherently creates surpluses in the market, generating inefficiency that would cause property value to decline dramatically.

Artificially increasing the demand for these affordable housing projects by undercutting the market will lead these very people to be confined to the required income for continued support, subsequently bringing about an even greater divide among income earners overtime.

However helpful these projects may seem, they are not necessary for a flourishing economy that would otherwise provide for the people of Pullman.