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The City Sell-Off 

Spokane is trying to unload 20 properties

click to enlarge A boarded-up home owned by the city of Spokane.
  • A boarded-up home owned by the city of Spokane.

The windows of the white, two-story home in East Central have been boarded up. The lawn is maintained — as orderly, golden stubble.

This house, at 1808 E. First Ave., is one of 1,600 pieces of property owned by the city of Spokane. Some of the pieces contain city buildings and parks; others are slivers of land to make road right-of-ways.

But properties like the East Central house are another breed: they’re houses that have gone into foreclosure. And they remain as lingering proof of the devastating housing bubble that blew up around the nation.

How does the city of Spokane come to own a house?

It starts with good intentions. The city provides grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with the aim of making improvements for the “health, life and safety” of low-income households — things like electrical repairs, heating systems, new roofs.

“We don’t want to be economically causing hardship,” says Paul Trautman, housing program administrator. “[But] we end up as a second mortgage behind their current mortgage.”

Most loans amount to between $25,000 and $35,000, according to Trautman. About 1 percent of the homeowners taking improvement loans wind up foreclosing, he says.

The Spokane City Council in late August voted to authorize the sale of 20 properties.

“The longest that we’ve had some of them have been five years, most of them were [acquired] in the last two to three years,” Trautman says.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist says the city takes stock from time to time and decides to put its foreclosure properties up for sale. Money from foreclosure sales goes back into the housing rehab program, she says.

City Council President Ben Stuckart says he wasn’t aware that the city had so many foreclosures until the resolution was coming to the Council.

“I hope every year we’ll do an internal audit and maybe there will [only] be one or two a year,” Stuckart says.

Not all the homes are boarded up. A sunken concrete walkway leads to the porch of 611 S. Scott St., where uncovered windows provide a peek at the emptiness inside. A house at 2413 E. First Ave. crawls with peeling, red paint. Some of the properties remain only as vacant lots after the city had to bulldoze drug houses.

Other properties aren’t even abandoned.

“Some of them are currently occupied, but they’re occupied by renters,” Trautman says.

The sale was news to at least one tenant. The renter, who asked not to be identified, says no notice was given that the houses were being put up for sale.

“They never said anything about selling it,” says the renter, who has lived there for six years. 

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