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IHFA to support Interfaith Sanctuary without federal grant

The Idaho Housing and Finance Administration will no longer be seeking a federal grant to help Interfaith Sanctuary expand, but will still be supporting the move.

Earlier this month, the quasi-governmental organization focused on affordable housing and homelessness opted out of an application process to use funds from the latest federal stimulus package to help Interfaith Sanctuary purchase property on State Street for a new shelter. They started the process to apply earlier this year in the hopes of landing $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project.

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Not eligible for COVID-19 relief funds

Idaho Housing and Finance Association’s Vice President of Housing Support Programs Brady Ellis said they considered the federal grant a “potential resource” to support the move. Federal guidance on what the grant could be used for was vague and after more conversations with HUD he said the project was not eligible.

“As we started investigating the funding source and the project and you start checking boxes of does this fit, you have to go and seek guidance from HUD that is the administrator and say ‘does this work?’ and it seemed to get to a point where the expectations for the use of funding for the (grant) didn’t seem to align with the activity of the shelter project,” Ellis said.

“The funds were specific to a COVID response and the shelter obviously is going to continue longer term past the pandemic and that’s why we say it wasn’t quite the right fit project for the funding that is going to be made available.”

IHFA is still supporting Interfaith expanding the shelter, although Ellis said the organization was not involved in selecting the former Salvation Army warehouse on State Street for the project. Without the grant, IHFA still plans to dedicate $1.5 million of its own funds to assist with developing a new shelter.

Neighborhood concerns persist

The project has been rife with criticism and concern from nearby neighbors since it was announced in January. The Veteran’s Park Neighborhood Association and nearby residents are concerned about the impacts of a shelter in their neighborhood. They have expressed a range of concerns, including the shelter’s location in a neighborhood with a high percentage of low-income residents, increases in police and fire calls to the building and worries about property and other drug crimes perpetrated by some members of the homeless community.

Interfaith Sanctuary announced Tuesday a shakeup to the project to try and calm concerns including a reduction in the bed space down from 276 to 200. The altered design will include more individual rooms for employed guests ready for stable housing, but unable to land an affordable place to live yet.

Chatter on social media and emails from residents concerned about the project Tuesday showed continued opposition to the project from those who spoke out. Opponents remain concerned about the number of residents in the shelter, it’s proximity to a residential neighborhood and the shelter’s plan to use floor mats in its day shelter area as overflow shelter for those in need of emergency accommodations. They say the changes do not reflect why they were opposed to the project.

Ellis said neighbors “have valid concerns” about the site being near their homes, but he praised Interfaith Sanctuary’s changes and their move to build a more dynamic shelter in the city.

“I like what I see with their reimagining of their shelter and having programming and a project that really focuses on trying to just be a pass through and a step up opportunity for those that engage with them,” Ellis said. “They’re trying to make sure those who cross through their door are set up and working towards being permanently and stably housed.”

“No substantial impact”?

Veteran’s Park Neighborhood Association took a firm stance against IHFA’s grant application to try and support the project.

In a 66 page letter to IHFA, VPNA Vice President Katy Decker criticized the proposed shelter project and IHFA’s environmental impact report it submitted along with its application. She argued the agency only addressed environmental issues, like erosion and wildlife, and neglected to address the project’s impact on the community and the nearby neighborhood.

Decker said the grant application and it’s accompanying environmental assessment that found there was “no substantial impact” from the project was incomplete, illegal and did not answer important questions about how the project would function. The letter also said it glossed over “environmental justice concerns” stemming from the fact that the shelter would bring the project into a neighborhood with low-income residents.

“Any potential impact relating to the high concentration of individuals impacted by alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, and recent incarceration on the surrounding area was not addressed in the environmental assessment,” Decker wrote. “While the single populations are carefully separated from the family residents inside the shelter there is no separation between these individuals and the children and other vulnerable users who are present in the neighborhoods, bus stops, and parks in the immediate vicinity surrounding the shelter.”

Project matters more than demographics

When asked about the neighborhood association’s concerns about the environmental assessment, Ellis said the assessment was focused on environmental hazards and is “quite a different process” than the concerns raised by neighbors. He reiterated IHFA’s role in supporting the project, not choosing the site and said there are a number of factors that likely went into the selection of State Street.

In response to Decker’s concerns about the shelter disproportionately impacting a low-income neighborhood, Ellis said this should be considered when finding a project location. But, the biggest factors for how much impact a project will have depend on its execution. He pointed to Valor Pointe, a permanent supportive housing project for homeless veterans, as a successful venture that did not impact the Veteran’s Park Neighborhood.

“In terms of bringing a project that has lower-income individuals to any area, I think a lot of that depends on what the programming is, how well it’s run, how some of the concerns are managed on-site and around that site,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the only consideration.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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