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Boise Council passes ordinance that aims to boost affordable housing, with changes

Boise’s housing bonus ordinance got the green light, but with some slight changes in response to an outpouring of opposition from some residents. 

After a six hour meeting filled with passionate testimony, Boise City Council voted unanimously to approve its newest proposal designed to help address the city’s growing affordability crisis. The ordinance allows interested developers to get incentives in exchange for building housing with some income-restricted rental units with lower rents or along transit corridors.

Council members said the bonus would not solve all of the city’s housing problems, or create housing for the lowest income Boiseans. But, they argued the bonus will build more housing in the city for those flooding into the area and create some units priced lower than would otherwise be built.

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More scalebacks

If a developer proposes ten to 20 percent of its units include a restriction for those making between 80% and 100% of area median income, the project can qualify for a parking reduction and added building height. Another bonus allows city staff to approve projects less than 25 units without a public hearing that the city would usually require.

Originally, this bonus would be allowed in R-3 zones, as well as many commercial areas, but Council President Elaine Clegg made an amendment to limit it only to parcels within a certain range of major intersections, shopping centers and along major corridors. She said Wednesday this change would limit the scope of the bonus and keep the impact out of neighborhoods, which is what many people who testified against the bonus feared.

“We’re not looking to make big changes in the middle of neighborhoods right now, but we are looking to get more housing built,” she said.

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Other changes Clegg made include requiring a monthly report to council on the number of applicants taking advantage of the bonus. She also moved to require notice to residents within 300 feet of a project when staff approves a project so residents can appeal the decision.

In the bonus’s first iteration, city staff could approve any project with up to 50 units without a public hearing. Clegg opted to drop the limit for all projects down to 25 to assuage concerns from residents with being cut out of the public process. 

This follows another rollback of the housing bonus ordinance after the city gathered feedback from the public, which included removing R2 zones from the affordable housing bonus.

The second type of bonus available to developers is for projects near 21 already designated so-called activity centers, which are places where there is a mix of uses and high-density residential already in the area. In exchange for the location, it would allow more height for projects not in R3, some additional density and a parking reduction. 

Developers who make use of an existing structure instead of total demolition could also be eligible for a parking reduction.

Under the bonus, developers could combine the affordable housing bonus with either the activity center bonus or the bonus for adaptive reuse.

A split crowd

The majority of those heard at Tuesday’s lengthy hearing testified against the changes.

Many expressed concern about how the ordinance would further change the city and noted fear it would rapidly change their neighborhoods without anyone being able to voice their concerns in a public hearing. There were also concerns it would speed gentrification in the city and further reward developers, according to a few residents. 

Another major critique of the bonus from some members of the public during the development process are the rents for the units and the income levels they are targeting. This bonus would target those making less than $52,375 for a single adult, or a biweekly paycheck of $2,014 before taxes.

In the program, the city would set rents depending on household size according to standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 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.

Not everyone spoke in opposition, though. A small group of residents testified in favor of the bonus, which they said could bring more housing to the city and help with the growing housing shortage. They argued dense projects would help reduce traffic on the roads and build a more walkable, community-friendly city. 

Supportive council members

Council members acknowledged concerns from the public, but said the bonus’s goal of adding more housing could not wait.

“What this tool could do and what we would like it to do is provide more housing for people who live here now, for people who want to live here and who are not going to be dissuaded by bad attitudes towards newcomers,” member Holli Woodings said. 

Council Member TJ Thomson said he was not concerned about moving some of the projects to an administrative process as the city grows bigger and denser.

“As we grow as a city, it’s going to become more and more difficult to hear every single item that could possibly come before us as a council,” he said.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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