Boise is launching another effort to encourage developers to build affordable housing.
Mayor Lauren McLean is resurrecting an old proposal to give out cash grants to developers in exchange for affordable housing. Former Mayor Dave Bieter’s administration floated the idea and city council earmarked funding for it, but the city never implemented it.
There aren’t many details available yet on McLean’s proposal, but Grow Our Housing Program Manager Leon Letson said the city plans to launch a rolling application for funds next month. The goal for the program is to target developers to encourage them to build affordable units for extremely low Boiseans making 30% of the area median income or less. Nearly all of Boise’s affordable housing projects in recent years have been mixed-income, which means the extremely low-income units would most likely be mixed in with units for Boiseans of all income levels.
To qualify as extremely low income in Boise an individual person must make $15,713 per year before taxes or lower. Letson said the city currently has a deficit of 6,000 housing units needed for those in this income category. Although, this doesn’t mean they are all homeless.
“It doesn’t mean we have 6,000 homeless people here, but we have 6,000 people renting outside of their income level and paying a higher percentage of their income to rent than they should,” Letson said.
This is not the first time the city has done a housing incentive program, but this idea has a much narrower focus on income. In 2015, Boise launched an incentive program to give cash grants to developers building in the downtown core. The city paid out $1,000 per unit, and double that for affordably priced projects, but all but one of the projects the program funded were upscale downtown housing, the Idaho Press reported in 2018.
Boise City Council earmarked $2 million for a housing incentive program in 2018, but never used it. A 2019 study by Portland-based consulting firm Leland Consulting Group found the city’s proposal of $5,000 cash grants would not be enough to sway housing developers to build low-cost units due to high building costs in most cases, according to the Idaho Press.
Letson did not mention the results of the 2019 study, but he said if the city launched this program it would combine the grants with other funds and partnerships to build housing. This could include collaborations with urban renewal agency Capital City Development Corporation, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, the city’s affordable housing land trust where it uses public land to subsidize housing construction and low-income housing tax credits issued by the U.S. Treasury.
“We’re going to have to be stacking this on a lot of other resources,” Letson said. “We’ve kind of already been doing that, but this is something we could see working in concert with funding from (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and other programs, an affordable housing land trust project or the housing bonus ordinance.”
Optimistic council members
City Council President Elaine Clegg said she would like to open talks with the Ada County Highway District to see if they would be willing to participate as well.
“We’ve got a lot of impact fees being collected by ACHD that might be included, perhaps in some kind of incentive program either if that’s a cash refund or if ACHD would reduce them in some instances,” she said. “It seems like it’s worth having that discussion.”
City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings was also supportive, but she said the city should focus more on just housing to assist low-income residents in the long term.
“I agree we need to address the housing piece, but we may need to also address the economic development piece to make sure we’re moving people up in income level,” she said. “We need to meet them where they’re at with housing, but then make sure they are making a living wage.”