The City of Boise made changes to its newest affordable housing proposal after taking public input.
On December 14, Boise’s Planning & Zoning Commission will hold the first public hearing on the proposed Housing Bonus Ordinance. This new program proposes incentivizing developers building in certain zones to designate a small percentage of rental units in their projects for affordable housing or build along public transit corridors by giving added bonuses, like a parking reduction, a public approval process without a public hearing on projects less than 50 units and allowing taller buildings.
The approach to offer incentives – instead of instituting requirements for it, or implementing rent control – aligns with Idaho State Code. State law places restrictions on how cities can regulate rent. City ordinances that require developers to build affordable units are in murky constitutional territory in Idaho, as well.
A parcel will only get the added heights and other bonuses if a developer agrees to the city’s stipulations, instead of an across the board zoning change for all properties known as an ‘upzone’.The proposed ordinance also requires a 35-foot height limit for projects next to single-family homes or duplexes to transition between lower density and higher density areas.
The final version of the ordinance is not yet available, but some of the changes will exclude parcels zoned R2 from being eligible for the program and a reduction to additional bonus height allowed in R3.These two zones were the only residential zones, where only homes or apartments can be located, included in the original proposal for the bonus. All of the other eligible zones are currently zoned for business, commercial or mixed-use.
The original proposal also included an incentive for developers interested in preserving 50% of existing affordable housing units. If developers completed this, the city could grant them two additional stories on their project. After hearing community feedback against the additional height bonus, city planning staff removed it from the ordinance because there has not been any interest from developers in these types of projects in the past.
Boise Associate Comprehensive Planner Andrea Tuning said the ordinance is not a way to only benefit developers. She said this bonus allows Boise to encourage them to build more housing in a way the city supports.
“There is public benefit,” she said. “We get this additional supply of housing in the right location and we have the ability to get housing that provides relatively affordable rates for this one specific target population. It’s not for all, it’s for this specific one (income group), and in return we can give you some reductions in parking, and perhaps, some additional height.”
This move is one part of the city’s ongoing efforts to address the growing housing crisis in Boise. Starting under former Mayor Dave Bieter and now under Mayor Lauren McLean, Boise is working toward a combination of increasing density, building housing public-private partnerships, creating an affordable housing land trust and a housing incentive program focused on creating units for extremely low-income Boiseans.
What about the rents?
Grow Our Housing Program Manager Leon Letson said the focus for the units created by the Housing Bonus Ordinance is to help Boiseans making less than the area median income of $52,375 for a single adult. This translates to a biweekly paycheck of $2,014 before taxes.
The percentage of units in projects receiving the bonus designated affordable will have rents designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development based on income and other rents in the area.
For a single adult making less than the area median income, their rent would be $1,309 per month. A family of four making 80% of the area median income, or less than $59,850, would pay $1,496 monthly.
Average rents are not tracked as closely as single family home sales, making it difficult to nail down the cost for rentals in Boise. According to RentCafe.com, Boise’s average rent is $1,194. A study from ApartmentList.com released in October listed the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Boise as $1,020, a 5.5% increase over the same time in 2019.
Letson said the growing gap between Treasure Valley wages and housing costs is “undeniable.” He said one of the ways the city can address the housing crisis is to increase supply for housing at all price points, including market rate as well as properties priced for residents making at or below the area median income.
“Supply and demand is one of the major pillars of the free market and capitalism,” he said. “Making it easier to introduce additional supply is one of the biggest things the city can do. I think we’re doing our part on the supply side of that equation by getting housing built.”
The ordinance, written by consulting firm Clarion Associates, is happening ahead of the city’s multi-year process to rewrite Boise’s zoning code. Since the city first introduced the proposal to the public in August, the city heard public input from community members and made some changes after some public opposition.
Some neighborhood associations, Southeast Neighborhood Association and Vista Neighborhood Association, came out against the proposal because they said it would bring large multifamily apartment buildings into established neighborhoods and encourage demolition of existing structures. This combined with the removal of public hearings for projects less than 50 units made the proposal unpopular with some Boiseans.
Tuning said neighbors will still get notice of projects in their neighborhood and be able to share their thoughts, even if it doesn’t happen in a public hearing.
“(The ordinance removes it from a public hearing process, but the rules remain the same whether it’s at a public hearing or reviewed administratively,” Tuning said. “All neighborhood associations will always be noticed and individuals can always work with the design review or historic preservation planner. It will always have a design review (hearing) and will always have design standards. The rules don’t change whether it’s in a public hearing or a private hearing.”
Residents will still be able to make the case for changes in design review, but Tuning said the ordinance will allow for projects nearby residents might oppose because of the changes.
“As planners, we are bound to the rules and regulations that are in place,” Tuning said. “If a neighborhood wants two-story structures, but the ordinance allows for six, we have to allow for the six stories.”