This post includes the executive summary of a recently released Palouse Regional Housing Assessment, prepared by Thomas P. Miller & Associates.
Housing plays a pivotal role in determining the well‐being and economic security of individuals and families in the Palouse Region. For that reason, it is fitting that discussions of housing challenges should have primacy over many other matters discussed in the public square. Our housing policies and strategies must also recognize the diversity of conditions existing within and across the region. As such, our local governments, institutions and businesses have a central role to play in defining specific community needs, crafting policies, and marshaling resources to support housing solutions. Addressing the scale and complexity of need requires a renewed regional commitment to expand the range of housing options available for an increasingly diverse population. Furthermore, since we (the residents of Whitman and Latah Counties) walk, talk, and act like a region, it’s crucial to approach housing in the same way. The Palouse’s shared workforce, economy, and infrastructure needs make it essential that we view housing as a regional imperative.
To better understand and to help alleviate these issues, The Partnership for Economic Prosperity (PEP), hired Thomas P. Miller & Associates (TPMA) to conduct this Regional Housing Assessment with the intent of gaining full understanding of the region’s housing issues, uncovering potential solutions, providing a forecast of regional demand, and identifying a network of stakeholders who desire to be part of the solution.
This analysis stems from ongoing conversations among regional leaders about housing affordability, in particular, how it limits the opportunities for many residents and dampens the region’s potential economic growth. Based on conversations with project stakeholders, TPMA was provided several directives. Firstly, it is important to investigate all forms of housing in the region, rather than focusing on just one segment, such as affordable housing. Secondly, the assessment must be regionally focused, rather than giving preference to either of the primary cities, or urban areas in general.
Over the past nine months, TPMA has sought to identify unfilled gaps in the current housing market, provide recommendations supported by best practices, and outline an early road map for implementation. It has been TPMA’s intent from the outset of this project, not just to investigate the what and why of housing in the Palouse Region, but to leave leaders with answers on how to improve current circumstances. Our desire is that this analysis provides clarity, guidance, and inspiration to the citizens of the Palouse Region to take on that challenge.
The housing affordability issue in the Palouse Region is clear to any resident but can be further crystalized with a small handful of national and regional data points:
- Recent survey research indicates that over half of the region’s residents agree that “affordable, decent housing” is an aspect of the community that needs improvement, ranking among the top three issues in both counties. 
- According to the United Way, more than half of all households in Whitman and Latah counties are either in poverty or Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) 
- A large portion of residents’ expenses are due to housing, which are higher than the national average in Pullman and Moscow (by 44% and 34%, respectively) .
- Housing is rapidly becoming less affordable. Nationally, construction cost per square foot for single‐family homes has increased 32% since the end of the last recession. 
- Values are escalating even more rapidly in the Palouse Region. In 2018 Whitman County was among the nation’s top 20% in increased cost of single‐family homes, and Latah County in the top 40%. 
- As noted by numerous realtors and employers, housing quality and costs are noted as regular deterrents for high‐talent individuals entertaining job offers in the region.
The Palouse Regional Housing Assessment provides an abundance of data points and research to support the above listed strategies. A few of these key data points are listed below:
Households that are cost‐burdened by housing are common in the region. TPMA estimates that as of 2017, over 11,900 households were cost‐burdened, equivalent to 37% of the region’s population. This issue is not just isolated to college students, evidenced by the fact that 16% of homeowners earning between $50,000 and $74,999 are cost burdened.
Construction of multi‐family units has dominated over the past several years while single‐family development is at an historic low. Multi‐family building has occasional years of punctuated growth on both sides of the border. Overall, however, fully 44% of all new residential development in the region since 2012 has been multi‐family housing in Whitman County.
The region has seen dramatic increases in renter‐occupied housing, which is only partially attributable to student populations. Renter‐occupied dwellings surpassed owner‐occupied dwellings as the norm in the region in 2011.
Over the past ten years, among households headed by people 25‐years and older, owner‐occupied housing units have grown only slightly (7%), while renter‐occupied housing units have increased by 46%. In other words, the number of adults renting housing has increased six‐fold more than the number of adults who own homes.
Pullman is leading the region in terms of population growth and employment growth, but Moscow is also holding its own.
In addition, the daily exchange of residents across the state border reveals that residents commonly choose to live in Latah County and work in Whitman County. In fact, 13% of Pullman’s workforce resides in Moscow; whereas 5% of Moscow’s workforce resides in Pullman.
The region’s economy generally weathers recessions well. During the Great Recession employment in the Palouse Region expanded and home values remained stable, although both decreased slightly for two years following the recession. Therefore, a national recession could have the counter‐intuitive result of making the Palouse Region more attractive to real estate developers who are currently pre‐occupied with higher‐growth real estate markets.
Based on thorough analysis of regional data, TPMA concludes that there is currently a gap in supply for single‐family housing that far exceeds the minor gap for multifamily housing. Forecasting demand is difficult because of the substitutability of use between housing types, especially in regions where housing affordability is a challenge. Despite this challenge, TPMA wishes to provide an outline of current and future demand. TPMA estimates that the region is currently short of the needed number of single‐family homes by roughly 340 units; and over the ten‐year period from 2017 to 2027, the region will need over 2,600 additional single‐family units (or roughly 270 per year). If accomplished, this change would result in a nearly two‐fold increase in single‐family housing production over the prior ten‐year period of time.
Accomplishing a greater level of housing development while still maintaining a high quality of place will require deliberate planning and coordinated action. TPMA proposes the following strategies for improving and expanding housing options in the Palouse Region, which are explained in more detail in the body of the Regional Housing Assessment.
- Identifying & Deputizing a Palouse Housing Leadership Team
- Development of Priority Land Set‐Asides
- Development of an Attainable Housing Program
- Assignment of Student Housing Districts
- Establishing Rural Housing Transition Zones
- Use of Grants, Sponsorship & Incentive Programs
- Improved Clarity in Development Standards
- Increased Use of the Land Trust Model
- Development of Skilled Labor
In addition, TPMA proposes that regional leaders consider enabling and facilitating increased access to each of the following housing types. The body of the Regional Housing Assessment explains benefits of each housing type, strategies for mitigating community risks, ideal locations, successful best practices, recommended changes to zoning codes, and recommended first steps.
- Small Single‐Family Homes—Also called pocket neighborhoods, micro homes, high‐density detached, and cluster housing. These homes are smaller in size than conventional single‐family homes and often exist in neighborhoods with shared spaces.
- Agrihoods—Neighborhoods which mix agriculture and residential land uses by surrounding a farm, garden, or orchard with residences.
- Tiny Home Neighborhoods—Tiny homes are generally 500 square feet or smaller, lower cost and frequently more environmentally friendly than traditional single‐family homes. Tiny homes can be either on‐wheels or installed on a foundation. But, those on foundations are generally easier for communities to permit and manage.
- Accessory Dwelling Units—Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) share a parcel with an existing housing unit and possess the necessary features of a legal residence, such as independent plumbing, parking, etc.
- Modular Built Homes—Modular Built Homes can be developed faster, and often cheaper, than traditional stick‐built homes, and allow labor‐constrained regions to add housing supply.
- Large‐Scale Single‐Family Housing Developments—Traditional large single‐family homes are on standard large residential lots, with independent parking and yards for each unit. Continued development of large‐scale single‐family housing is necessary to support the growing professional, middle‐ to high‐income workforce of the region.
- Senior Housing—Senior Housing includes an array of housing options that are more suitable for those over the age of 55 such as fully independent, assisted living, and nursing homes.
 Community Needs Assessment Survey, sponsored by Innovia Foundation, Whitman County Health Network, Lewis Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation and additional funders. For more information, and survey results, see: https://inlandnorthwestinsights.org/community‐survey/  United Way Research Center, State and County Reports: https://www.unitedforalice.org/all‐reports  Sperling’s Best Places, Cost of Living Comparison Tool, https://www.bestplaces.net/cost‐of‐living/  U.S. Census Bureau, Characteristics of New Housing, 2018.  Federal Housing Finance Association (FHA), House Price Index, https://www.fhfa.gov/PolicyProgramsResearch/Research/Pages/wp1601.aspx.