Campaign to end family homelessness aims for landlords to commit 300 rentals; nearly $5 million raised

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After a year-long delay, the City of Boise lit up its campaign to end family homelessness in mid-2021 and is charging ahead. 

The campaign, first launched at the tail end of Mayor Dave Bieter’s term and continued under Mayor Lauren McLean, is an ambitious effort for Our Path Home, a coalition of homelessness agencies and nonprofits, to raise $8.5 million toward supercharging the services for families without a roof over their heads. As part of this effort, city staff, homeless nonprofits, and the private sector plan to add more resources to get families housed quicker and prevent them from returning to the shelter again. 

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

Casey Mattoon, Boise’s Our Path Home manager, said the city spent the past two years in the planning phases and then adapting to the unexpected wave of COVID-19. The campaign delayed its launch in 2020 due to the number of relief dollars available, but Mattoon said that money wouldn’t solve Ada County’s housing woes. 

“Many of the COVID response dollars will elapse this year,” Mattoon said. “When the dollars elapse, we will still need an influx of private philanthropy to allow Our Path Home to make proactive work happen. Without the campaign and the additional resources and strategies, we would not have something to point to about how we’re trying to make progress and get ahead of the issue.”

Can you really “end family homelessness”?

There are a little more than 260 families without a home on the waiting list to be rehoused in Ada County. This number is up from roughly 150 Ada County typically saw before COVID-19 hit. 

The goal is for the number of families experiencing homelessness in Ada County to reach “functional zero.” That would mean just as many families are being housed as are becoming homeless, so there is no waitlist for help. The plan is to achieve this by ramping up investment in prevention, case managers, and rental assistance to help get residents back under a roof of their own. 

The first order of business in launching the campaign in July was the rollout of Ada County’s new housing crisis hotline. While it might seem like a simple concept, Mattoon said the hotline was the culmination of months of work to build a better referral system to send callers to the right resources in a trauma-informed way, instead of letting them ping pong between nonprofits and eventually fall through the cracks.

Anyone in a housing crisis can now call 208-336-4663 for help. 

Money, money, money

The fundraising piece of the campaign also kicked off in July with a fundraising committee led by former GOP gubernatorial candidate and Meridian-based developer Tommy Ahlquist, Pacific Companies CEO Caleb Roope, and Andrea Roope. The campaign is still in its silent phase and has been fundraising with donors and foundations out of the public eye in the effort’s early days. Still, Mattoon said the effort secured 20 significant gifts totaling over half the fundraising goal. 

The campaign was initially launched as a partnership between the City of Boise and Ada County under the leadership of former Democratic Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, with Boise providing the first $2 million for the effort and Ada County contributing $500,000. Ada County originally was going to foot the cost of the contract with philanthropic fundraising firm Donor by Design, but over the summer, the Ada County Commissioners opted to stop funding this, and the City of Boise is now paying for it. 

Lachiondo was also on the campaign’s committee with other staffers and public officials, but since she lost to Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson in 2020, Ada County has not appointed a replacement for her. 

Mattoon said that the City of Boise and Our Path Home hope to launch the public phase of the campaign in 2022 alongside a report showing the results of the hotline and other initiatives. 

Affordable units wanted

Before the pandemic, consultants and city staff thought this goal was achievable without an additional housing component. But, now that the housing market has gotten tighter, particularly for low-income Idahoans, they had to change course. 

A new piece of the campaign, called the 300 Homes Initiative, aims to work with landlords to find 300 dedicated rental housing units for families struggling with homelessness. Under the proposal, landlords of existing, under construction, or planned units would set aside a small portion of their rentals for Our Path Home to use as housing for families in need. 

Families would be selected by Our Path Home and provided case managers, rental assistance, and other social supports to keep them stably housed. The advantage of this strategy is it relies upon units that already exist in the community instead of waiting for new ones to come online in later years. 

This would be on top of the push to build 85 new supportive housing units for people transitioning out of homelessness. On top of that, Boise hopes to build 1,250 units for low-income Boiseans in the next five years, which would be open to anyone and not tailored specifically for families cycling out of homelessness.

Tighter market demands bigger partnerships

CATCH Executive Director Stephanie Day said her organization has plenty of case managers and resources to pay rental assistance for those in need, but the problem is finding rentals with low enough rent her tenants can afford on their own. 

In the past, CATCH would work with private landlords who were willing to cut their clients a break and potentially lose $100 or maybe $200 a month in profit to house those in need. But now that so many landlords have sold their once-affordable rentals for triple the price they bought them for, the rents have tripled. 

Day said this new environment means it will take partnerships with corporate landlords who own more than 100 units, not just privately owned units scattered across town, to make this work. 

“I think it’s really with COVID it’s really clear that (private landlords alone) probably is not going to get us there,” Day said, about the effort to dedicate 300 homes. “I’m sure we’ll find spots for a few folks here or there, but that’s not the full solution that is going to end homelessness for our community.”

Ahlquist said he formed a new group to help find the 300 units called the Treasure Valley Housing Coalition. It had its first meeting this week with representatives from major multi-family landlords throughout the Treasure Valley, and there was strong enthusiasm. 

“It’s an easy one for me,” Ahlquist said about his role in the effort. “If you look around at communities where it hasn’t been all hands on deck, this can grow into a problem very quickly. In Boise, we have an amazing place we live with amazing community partners, and everyone coming to the table is critical.”

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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