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‘Innovation and creativity’: ADU program, tiny homes on wheels part of pilot program between Boise & LEAP Housing

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The City of Boise is preparing to put two of its new ideas on affordable housing to the test. 

Working with nonprofit LEAP Housing (pending City Council approval), the city will soon begin searching for participants willing to participate in two new pilot programs testing small-scale affordable housing options in Boise as the housing crisis continues to worsen. This program, which came out of the city’s participation in the Harvard-Bloomberg City Leadership Initiative’s Innovation track, will test incentives for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units in exchange for affordable rental rates and the allowance of tiny homes on wheels within city limits. 

[Boise City Ada County Housing Authority looks for partners on long-dormant affordable housing project]

Boise’s Data Strategist Kyle Patterson said these two concepts came out of multiple public input sessions with interested residents, renters, developers, and nonprofit leaders over the past year. He said the program is exciting because these solutions are community-oriented, allowing residents to have a hand in creating solutions for housing their neighbors.

“That’s a great place to be in when we have this large community problem,” Patterson said. “It’s complex, it’s big, and it’s hairy, and we have these residents who get really excited about solutions. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do these is because we felt like we’re missing opportunities if we don’t do them.”

The third concept that came forward through the Harvard-Bloomberg initiative was a city-sponsored room-sharing site, but Patterson said the city put this idea on the back burner for now in favor of focusing on the ADU and tiny home on wheels concepts. 

ADUs in bulk

It’s not cheap to build an ADU these days. 

In 2019, Boise City Council voted to relax some of its regulations on the standalone structures, sometimes called mother-in-law units, to encourage more Boiseans to build them and add more housing options to the city. Reporting from BoiseDev found an uptick in construction after rules changed, but now the city wants to take things a step further to ensure the units are being rented at affordable rates and not just posted on Airbnb. 

The first part of Boise’s housing affordability pilot will be focused on helping interested property owners build an ADU of their own, with an agreement that they rent to a low-income Boisean for a period of roughly a decade in exchange. Patterson said the pilot aims to build 10 to 12 ADUs and place renters in them in the next year. 

To help bring costs down, he said LEAP Housing has partnered with Boise-based Flynner Homes to access two or three pre-designed models of ADUs they have already built before. The goal would be to produce the ADUs in bulk to keep costs down, which allows it to be feasible to rent the units at $1,050 per month for someone making less than 80% of the area median income. This is equivalent to $42,000 per year for a single adult in Boise. 

Patterson said a big aim of the pilot is to see if they can drop building costs enough to make this viable for homeowners. To help, LEAP Housing and the city will be consulting with YardHomes in Minnesota, which has had some success with dropping the cost of an ADU down to $125,000, but Patterson isn’t sure exactly how the pilot will work until they start building.

Boise ADUs
An ADU in the North End. Tami Springer and her husband built it to add more space to their small North End home and to rent out on a limited basis. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

“From what we’ve talked about with other folks, to build a standalone ADU, it will be $175,000 to $225,000 for folks that are contacting with builders,” he said. “At that price point, it becomes really difficult to rent it out at affordable rates and pay off the cost of that building…I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that here, but the hope is we can get it closer to $125,000 than the $175,000.”

Depending on how things go with dropping construction costs, the city hopes to make the ADUs available to those making less than 60% of the area median income, or $31,680 for a single adult in Boise, but that is still only a goal at this point. He also expects some of the test ADUs will be reserved for people with Section 8 vouchers from the Boise City Ada County Housing Authority who are struggling to find housing that will accept their subsidy. 

Tiny homes rolling into town 

Finding ways to pilot the tiny home component of the pilot will be a little trickier. 

Patterson said the goal would be to try and place five or six moveable tiny homes, which are currently illegal within city limits, around Boise in various contexts to test the concept. This includes a mix of situations, such as where the renter owns the tiny home but rents the space to park it from a property owner or a setup where the homeowner owns both the tiny house and the land. Another possibility is creating a small community of a handful of tiny homes on one lot if the city can find an appropriate space. 

Unlike an ADU, which will be permanently built no matter what happens with the pilot project, moveable tiny homes are more fluid. Patterson said the city is working with LEAP to find participants to live in the tiny homes who won’t be left homeless if the pilot is unsuccessful and they have to leave their space at the end of the six months to a year-long trial period. 

“We have a few people on rural land who own a tiny home and would love the opportunity to do that legally in Boise, and when a pilot ends, they can move back to their situation,” Patterson said, as an example. “We are also thinking about traveling medical workers as a group or a returning college student who would love to live in a tiny home for six months, and if the pilot ends, they can still move back home.”

LEAP Housing CEO Bart Cochran told BoiseDev his organization is working on an intake system to help narrow down who will be able to participate and what land is usable. Possible participants will be sorted for several factors, including if someone owns property to build an ADU on, if they are income-eligible, if they hope to rent one of the spaces, or more detailed questions about the availability of connecting utilities to the possible site. 

Cochran said he is excited about the opportunity to work on new solutions for housing in Boise, especially ones driven by neighbors. 

“We think about (solving the housing crisis) as all about innovation and creativity,” Cochran said. “We think those are areas that are real trademarks of our organization, and we’re doing similar work to the city in parallel. We’re looking at innovative and creative strategies about how we can deploy creative strategies to take the edge off the affordable housing crisis, so when we see local government get into that conversation, it’s exciting.”

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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