Perspectives on Housing in Washington State: Conditions in Walla Walla

 Alan Blickenstaff

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The purpose of this research was to analyze the housing conditions and process in Washington State from the perspective of the Latino community in Walla Walla.

Method. Quantitative data was drawn from governmental databases, mainly from the U.S. Census Bureau and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). Specific market conditions in Walla Walla were garnered from on-line databases from realtors in the area which show available houses. Additionally, a case study was conducted centering around two mobile home parks in Walla Walla. The case study consisted of short conversations and one longer interview of tenants in the parks.

Findings. Basic findings of my research are as follows:

  • Current market conditions around home ownership in Walla Walla are stacked against lower income purchasers, with the very few houses available for under $100,000. Implications are tremendous for the Latino community when trends are taken into account: Latinos are disproportionately represented in the lower income brackets, have a statistically worse chance of obtaining loans, and typically are at a higher risk for substandard lending.
  • Education about the process of buying a home can be a major determinant in success in the home ownership market. A study of the available information on Walla Walla realtor websites showed a pervasive lack of information in Spanish.
  • Discrepancies in the living conditions, cost of living, and presence of problems between two mobile home parks across the street from one another (one primarily white, the other mainly Latino) indicate that the housing problems cannot be explained by simple economics.
  • Despite efforts by the Office of Manufactured Housing to document problems in mobile home parks, confusion about the reporting process and fear of landlords lead to underreporting.
  • Government data is insufficient to analyze the current conditions of Latinos in housing.

Recommendations. Basic policy recommendations are as follows:

  • Home buying and other housing information needs to be offered in Spanish as well asEnglish. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees that an institution cannot discriminate based upon national origins, which would include native languages.
  • The Mobile Home Landlord Tenant Act must be strengthened, and the underreporting of problems must be taken into account when analyzing House Bill 1640 which called for the documentation of problems.
  • Governmental data must be more inclusive and should contain information about specific loan applicants and cities (even if smaller that 50,000 people which is a typical cut-off). This expansion of data would allow analysis of loan acceptance and home ownership discrepancies which is impossible given the current lack of data.
  • More in-depth studies about the conditions for Latinos in the housing market, particularly mobile homes, must be conducted.

Community Partner. I was helped in my research by Ruben Garcia, a local real estate agent, and Ben Hooper of Columbia Legal Services.

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