A bill paving the way for state investment in workforce housing passed out of the House on a thin margin.
On Friday, the House of Representatives had a fiery debate about a proposal to create the Idaho Workforce Housing Trust Fund. This fund, which is separate from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund that has sat empty since the 1990s, would be the mechanism the state could use for Governor Brad Little’s proposal to use $50 million of COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to build housing statewide.
These funds, which the legislature will have decide to approve later in the session, could then be used as gap financing in public-private partnerships to build housing through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. This would mean the money would be used to make up the difference between what a developer can get a loan for and what it costs to build a new housing development with rents capped for middle-income Idahoans.
Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said even though it “wasn’t her favorite bill,” she urged the legislature to vote for it so ARPA funds could be used to help Idahoans during the worsening housing crisis.
“The federal government already chose to slide the credit card,” she told the House. “They did it for us without our consent. I think we can all take the moral high ground that Idaho has a better budgeting system than the federal government, but they slid the credit card. We have the bill. We have to pay it. So, now is the time to make sure that money is put to good use for Idahoans.”
It passed the House 37-31 and will now head across the rotunda to the Senate.
‘One of the worst bills I’ve seen’
This bill didn’t get a warm welcome from nearly half the chamber.
Several Republicans got up to debate against the measure, saying it was government overreach into the private sector, would harm Idaho’s sovereignty by taking federal funds and drive the “World Economic Forum’s agenda.”
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said workforce housing is another term for affordable housing and asked the legislators to push back against this bill and any funding for the initiative.
“This is forcing developers to build the way and what that government tells them to do,” she said. “Public private partnerships, if any of you listened to Glenn Beck when he visited last week he shared some of the concerns about environment and social governance scoring and the World Economic Forums agenda. If you’re unsure on this bill, I urge you to vote no.”
Workforce housing and affordable housing are different designations of housing for people of different income levels. Affordable housing is for residents making less than 80% of the area median income, which is equivalent to $42,000 for a single person in Boise. This fund would create housing for those making between 80% and 120% of area median income, which is less than roughly $63,000 per year in Boise for a single person.
Other legislators were concerned that this bill would use ARPA as an excuse to create an ongoing program to fund housing in Idaho, despite the sunset clause ending the program at the end of 2026. Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, called the housing fund proposal “socialism” and “one of the worst bills this legislative session.”
“The federal government is buying out Idaho,” he said. “We’re building housing projects like New York and Chicago did in the 60s and 70s. Are we proud of those projects?”