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Spokane growing pains: Housing costs are rising faster than incomes

Historically, Spokane has been affordable. Until recently, someone making an average salary could afford an average house. That has since changed.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Numbers can tell a story. Dr. Patrick Jones, executive director for Eastern Washington University's Institute of Public Policy & Economic Analysis, watched Spokane’s story of affordability vanish through the spreadsheets and graphs on his computer screen.

Historically, Spokane has been affordable. Until recently, someone making an average salary could afford an average house.

“Until about two years ago and then it started to go down,” Dr. Jones said.

In September 2021, Fortune Magazine published a list of the 10 most overpriced housing markets in the United States  —  and Spokane came in at No. 6 with the most overpriced houses selling for 45% more compared to past years. The study ranked the top 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. and compared house prices in the last 25 years. 

According to Dr. Jones’ numbers, the average Spokane wage has gone up 11% with housing costs going up 48%. The only job openings available as of now pay less than average salaries.

“You shouldn’t be paying more than 30% of your income towards shelter cost,” Dr. Jones said.

This means that buyers now have to make up for housing costs going up four times their salaries.

Dr. Jones said that the only way Spokane can fight these economic growing pains is to provide more higher paying jobs for its residents. Of course, none of this is simple.

“This will not be a bounce back real quickly,” Dr. Jones said.

Spokane has low inventory on houses right now, which drives up prices. When coupled with the service industry running low on profit margins, increasing wages two, three or four times for every employee will be impossible.

Ultimately, higher paying jobs and more housing will help Spokane out of its unaffordability. According to Dr. Jones, it will take quite a while for the city to reach that goal.

This story is part of KREM 2's Boomtown Week. Watch stories about the impacts of growth in Spokane and North Idaho all week long through Friday, Nov. 12.

Watch more Boomtown coverage on the KREM 2 YouTube channel: