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Gov. Little proposes $50 million for workforce housing financing

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Governor Brad Little is pitching a plan to help housing developers build housing for middle-income Idahoans statewide. 

On Wednesday, Little’s budget chief Alex Adams told the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee part of the governor’s proposed budget includes using $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government to use as financing for the construction of workforce housing. He estimates this would be enough to create 1,000 new units statewide. Adams said interest on the loans, which would need to be paid back to the state, would create more revenue to continue the funding of more units in the future. 

“We’ve heard about workforce housing challenges from Driggs to Sandpoint and everywhere in between,” Adams told the committee. 

Because of high construction costs, developers hoping to offer rents below the market value often need financing to make a project pencil. Adams said the goal of this funding would be to provide gap financing to developers who can’t make a project work even with federal tax credits and private financing. 

What is ‘workforce housing’?

Housing has become a major topic of discussion in recent years as Idaho’s rapid growth pushes home prices and rents to record highs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates Idaho is short 22,000 affordable housing units throughout the Gem State and vacancy rates, especially for affordable units, hover below 1%, according to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association

However, this isn’t an affordable housing program. 

According to standards set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, workforce housing is for people making between 80% and 120% of the area median income. Units reserved for those making less than 80% of area median income are considered affordable housing. The rent and income eligibility levels would be determined by the median income of an area, meaning the rents and incomes of tenants would look different in Grangeville than in Ketchum. 

The median income for a single person in Boise is currently $52,700, which would translate to a rent of $1,318 in a workforce housing project, according to federal guidelines posted on the city’s website. Keep in mind, this is only a ballpark figure to demonstrate the concept and it is unknown exactly what the rents would be and how they would be calculated for the governor’s proposal at this time. 

[Hot topics for Boise leaders in 2022 legislature: Housing, transportation and property taxes]

Legislators mulling idea

Eviction prevention nonprofit Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe, who formerly served in the Idaho Senate and has advocated for funds to be allocated for this purpose, said this would go a long way toward building more housing at competitive prices. She said the waiting list for affordable units her clients are trying to rent are hundreds of people long, often taking years to cycle through. 

“Taking this opportunity to boost our housing supply is a critical move and it will keep Idaho from becoming a Portland, a Seattle, or a San Francisco and keep homelessness from happening to our state,” Rabe said. 

Republicans could be more skeptical of the idea. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told BoiseDev Wednesday he has requested more information from Little’s office and doesn’t have enough information to comment on it one way or the other yet. On Monday, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the Idaho Capitol Sun he has some questions about the policy. 

“I don’t know how you plug government money into the private sector in a fair way,” said Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, at a Monday news conference. “Now, that’s not to diminish that we need affordable housing, etcetera, but it needs to be available to all, it needs to be fair, and we need to answer the question of whether that’s the appropriate use of Idaho state dollars.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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