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Boise lays out new affordable housing goals and strategies as rents continue to rise

The City of Boise has a new set of ambitious goals to address the Treasure Valley’s growing housing crisis.

On Tuesday, the Boise City Council and Mayor Lauren McLean heard a presentation from housing staff outlining an aggressive set of strategies to build new affordable housing units, preserve existing ones to stop displacement of low-income residents and create special housing units dedicated to housing the homeless community in the next five years.

[Under $15: Low wage workers in Boise face tough choices in tight housing market]

Market not meeting need for affordable units

Boise’s Senior Manager for Housing and Community Development Maureen Brewer said the city is in a crucial window of opportunity to build housing that’s affordable for low-income Boiseans as the population grows and average rents within city limits jump closer to $1,500 a month. She said this strategy is guided by the moniker “A Home for Everyone,” part of McLean’s “A City for Everyone” vision.

A major piece of the city’s strategy is to focus on building multi-family units for renters making less than 60% of the Area Median Income, which translates to less than $44,000 for a household of four. Brewer said the reason the city is focusing on this population is a 2021 Housing Needs analysis conducted by the city found the private market is not building these units and the need far outpaces the supply.

A graph showing the amount of housing units needed at certain income levels and what was built since earlier this year. Courtesy of the City of Boise.

“The bulk of the units needed each year is less than 60% of the AMI,” Brewer said. “More than half of Boise earns greater than 80% of AMI, but there is a discrepancy between that figure and the units needed. The market rotates to higher-income households, otherwise, what we would expect to see here the market would reflect the income distribution of Boise households, but it does not. What’s exciting, if there is good news, is that the city can help course correct an inefficient market and focus on where the need is.”

Build on city properties downtown

The city has a three-pronged strategy to address the growing needs.

First, the Housing Needs Analysis estimates the city will need an additional 2,773 housing units per year in the next decade to meet the population growth in Boise. Of those units, 77% of them need to be affordable for households making less than 80% of the Area Median Income, or $58,900 for a family of four. This is up from the 1,000 housing units per year estimate city staff calculated in 2018 under former Mayor Dave Bieter prior to COVID-19 flooding the housing market with even more new residents.

To help “move the needle” on the housing market and add more units at rates affordable to Boiseans, city staff is hoping to meet a goal of building 1,250 units for those making less than 60% of AMI in the next five years. The city will attempt to meet this goal with a minimum of five affordable housing projects on land the city owns and explore the possibility of homeownership in mixed-income, multifamily properties for low-income Boiseans.

Boise Fire Station 5
An early design concept rendering for Fire Station Five and an adjacent affordable housing project. Courtesy of the City of Boise

The projects for housing city staff are moving ahead on now include Franklin & Orchard and State & Arthur, as well as a new housing development as part of the reconstruction of Fire Station 5 in downtown Boise, the redevelopment of the city’s affordable housing at 1025 S. Capitol Boulevard and the relocation of the city’s maintenance facilities to allow for housing development next to Julia Davis Park, the former Fire Logistics and the city’s radio shop on 17th Street. The development of these sites could net the city as many as 719 units.

Preserving housing is cheaper than new construction

The other element of the plan includes preserving existing affordable housing.

These projects are typically referred to as NOAH (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing) and include units that are typically older and have low rents without government subsidy, but because of the hot housing market they could be redeveloped and force residents out. The city is hoping to preserve 1,000 of these units in the next five years with a combination of strategies.

The city’s first priority is to find ways to extend the affordability requirements for properties built with subsidies that will soon expire and no longer have rent caps. The other strategy the city is looking at is to use its funding to assist “mission driven” property owners in buying aging complexes or upgrading them in exchange for requirements that the rents remain affordable.

City Council President Elaine Clegg said the city should also look into ways they can work with older landlords who would like to see their properties remain low cost, but might not have a way to ensure they stay affordable in the long-term.

“A fair number of them, if they had a choice, would offer the tenants some way forward with this property that allowed the heirs to see some of the money from it but also allowed them to keep the property and keep it affordable,” Clegg said.

What about housing for recently homeless residents?

The third part of the city’s affordable housing strategy includes creating more permanent supportive housing.

Permanent supportive housing beds are more than just a low rent apartment. These are specific units targeted for people moving off of the streets after becoming homeless and include wraparound services and case management to keep residents connected to mental health counseling and other support to keep residents stably housed.

Casey Mattoon, the Our Path Home Administrator, said the city and the public-private homelessness partnership in Ada County hopes to create 750 new supportive housing units in the next five years. This includes 250 newly constructed or renovated units, as well as 500 units dedicated in existing properties. One of the biggest challenges will be to find ways to fund the supportive services for these units, which are not covered by Medicaid or any other direct funding source.

New Path Boise
The exterior of the New Path Community Housing facility in Boise, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Photo: Brian Myrick / Idaho Press

New Path Community Housing opened in late 2018 and provides over 40 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless Ada County residents. Since then, the supportive services provided by Terry Reilly were paid for by St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Ada County. But, earlier this year Ada County Commissioners expressed concerns about the model and opted to fund the project at a lower level leaving the future of New Path uncertain.

Clegg expressed concern about the city becoming the sole funder of the supportive services for these projects with the $10 million it has in reserves for these types of projects because it would not be sustainable. Instead, she said the city should be looking to the state or other regional partners to help fund these types of projects that impact everyone, not just Boiseans.

McLean agreed there needs to be stability in the funding, but she said Boise shouldn’t wait on others to address the urgent needs. She suggested the city use the funds it has to try and get supportive services paid for through other means.

“Yes, this is a state problem and a regional problem, but it’s also a Boise problem and we need state partnership and regional partnership but we also need leadership here locally and we can’t wait for the state legislature to take action and do what they need to do,” McLean said.

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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