Gov. Little interview: first-time homebuyers’ credit could help affordability issue

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Editor’s note: This is part of a six-part series of stories on our interview with Gov. Brad Little. Additional stories will appear all this week.

Idaho Governor Brad Little discussed growth, transportation and the interaction between state and local governments in a wide-ranging interview with this week.

It is the new governor’s first in-depth interview on growth-related issues since his inauguration last month.

Housing costs in the Treasure Valley are rising rapidly – both for renters and homeowners. According to Zillow, the median list price in Boise for a home more than doubled from December of 2012 to December of 2018 – from $150,000 to $329,000.

The increase is also impacting renters. According to RentCafe, the average rent in Boise has increased by nearly 20% in the past two years.

The full audio of the 30-minute interview is available in podcast form for members of BoiseDev FIRST as an exclusive benefit of membership. Listen now or sign up for access. Hear his full thoughts on growth, transportation, climate change, urban renewal and more.

While folks who have lived in Idaho a long time are feeling the pinch, Little said our lower rates in comparison to other areas is in part driving the growth rate.

“We all complain we indigenous side owns about the cost of housing but everybody I know is moving here just can’t talk enough about how affordable housing is,” he said. “When I talked to my friends in the technology industry that’s one of their best pieces of bait (to attract business) is affordable housing. “

But ‘affordable,’ is relative he says.

“What’s affordable housing to somebody that’s in Seattle Austin or California is unaffordable to us. “

Little touted the idea of a First Time Homebuyers Savings Account. He said the program could make a big impact for getting people into homes early in their lives.

“It does two things. A, it gets people in houses earlier and b, it plants the seed in people’s mind that it’s important to save money,” he said.

The concept would allow individuals to save up to $3,000 each year to apply toward buying their first home. A couple filing jointly could save up to $6,000. The funds would be tax free, allowing folks to get into homes without giving a chunk of cash to state government on money they saved for a down payment.

“There’ll be a little (budget) impact because it’ll be a little less income tax coming into the pool. But it’s still the right incentive to the right people.”

During a speech to the Building Owners and Managers Association in Boise Tuesday, Mayor Dave Bieter mentioned the Idaho Housing Trust Fund. The legislature established it in 1992, but in the 27 years since has not provided any funding.

“A trust fund with money isn’t a trust fund at all,” Bieter said. “It’s not helping, obviously.”

He said the City of Boise is working to launch a trust fund of its own dedicated to affordable housing – with $10 million in public dollars and $10 million in private contributions.

“If we can getting it working here, maybe we can get it going beyond just Boise,” the mayor said.

During our interview Monday, Little said on the state level, he would consider a funding mechanism if a proposal moved forward.

“If somebody would propose put money into it I’d look at it,” Little said. “But it’s competing with education funding and what we’re doing in corrections and mental health and in Medicaid expansion and it’s just one of those issues that we got to compete with a lot of other great causes. “

Little did say the Idaho Department of Housing and Finance also provides a number of programs that can help with housing affordability.

“They provide quite a bit of affordable housing opportunities,” Little said. “Not near as much as everybody would like but there they do a good job.”

Gov. Brad Little on Idaho’s growth

This story is part of a special six-part series, outlining how Idaho’s new governor looks at issues related to growth. BoiseDev FIRST members get access to a special podcast containing the full interview with the governor.

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