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City of Boise’s affordable housing program “on hold” after few applications

The City of Boise is putting its affordable housing incentive program on hold after it only funded two eligible projects.

Under former Mayor Dave Bieter in 2018, Boise City Council approved $2 million for an affordable housing incentive program to try and lure developers to build units for low-income Boiseans anywhere in the city.

The program sat on the back burner until November 2020 when McLean’s housing team launched a pilot program and opened applications for developers.

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

‘We learn and then we pivot’

Now, the program is closed. City spokesperson Lana Graybeal said in an email the program is “on hold” and the city is pivoting towards its housing needs analysis and other strategies for housing development in Boise. Records show the City of Boise only received two applications for the incentive and awarded $220,000 to developers since launch.

Graybeal did not respond to two emails requesting a meeting with city staff to discuss the pilot and why it is on hold in more depth.

In response to a question about it in an August media briefing, Housing and Community Development Senior Manager Maureen Brewer said the program was pulled after it wasn’t meeting expectations.

“Part of what McLean’s administration champions is we learn and then we pivot, and then we do better going forward,” Brewer said. “That’s a really illustrative example of where we tested something, we tried something, it wasn’t achieving the results we were looking for and we pulled it offline.”

What were the incentives available?

The incentive was targeted at “extremely low income” Boiseans making 30% of the area median income or less or $15,713 annually for a single adult with a maximum monthly rent of $392 monthly. The program is meant to be “stacked” with other subsidies and incorporated into mixed-use properties, like a low-income housing tax credit from the U.S. Treasury, Boise’s Housing Bonus Ordinance, or funds from urban renewal agency Capital City Development Corporation.

Developers in the program could get a combination of impact fee exemptions or cash incentives for up to $40,000 per unit renting to Boiseans making less than 30% AMI, $30,000 per unit for Boiseans making between 31% and 60% of AMI, and $20,000 per unit for tenants making between 61% and 80% of AMI. Rents would be required to remain at the 30% AMI level and be in place for 15 years.

The grants will be paid once the projects get a certificate of occupancy and the City of Boise will continue to do annual compliance checks to confirm the rents and income of the residents.

Who did qualify for an incentive?

Records obtained by BoiseDev in a public records request showed the city only paid out two grants. The first was $80,000 in April 2021 to affordable housing developer LEAP Housing Solutions for two four-bedroom, single-family homes on Taft Street in Northwest Boise.

The second grant was approved in mid-August for Prentiss Properties 21, LLC to construct 65 units at the corner of 27th Street and Stewart Avenue in the West End. Of those units, seven will be set aside for those making 80% of AMI or below. This is equivalent to $41,900 annually for a single adult. The $140,000 grant will be paid out upon estimated completion in July 2022.

When the last administration looked to create an incentive program, it was modeled after the city’s Downtown Boise Housing program. The 2015 initiative offered developers who built in downtown Boise $1,000 per market-rate unit or $2,000 per affordable unit. As of the end of 2018, the City of Boise paid out $632,000 to developers for largely upscale developments.

In 2019, the City of Boise hired consultant Leland Consulting Group to study the feasibility of an affordable housing incentive program offering $5,000 per unit. The study found after interviewing several local developers and studying development prices, a much steeper incentive must be offered to be effective.

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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