Mayor Lauren McLean painted an optimistic picture of Boise’s future in a challenging time during her annual State of the City Address.
On Wednesday, McLean took the stage for the address in front of a crowd at JUMP for the first time in her tenure as mayor due to the ebb of the COVID-19 pandemic. She encouraged Boiseans to focus on the community’s history of supporting each other in tough times and innovating to meet immense challenges as the city faces a tightening housing crisis, works to improve public transit and continues to recover from the pressures of the last two years.
She pointed to Boise’s early history of carving a city out of the desert with hundreds of miles of irrigation canals, the early foresight to build the county’s largest geothermal system and decades of development to create Boise’s now thriving downtown.
“Today we have faced an incredible number of challenges and we’ll continue, but these challenges give us the opportunity to create our vision of the city’s future,” McLean said. “We are charged with handing down to our kids the Boise we love, and the Boise of the future.”
COVID-19 relief spending on childcare, small business boosts
McLean said the city will continue to try and put more money back in Boisean’s wallets at a time when prices are rising and affordable housing is difficult to find.
She pointed to her past action on property taxes, where she did not take the full 3% maximum allowed under state statute after former Mayor Dave Bieter took the full 3% every year during all four of his terms. It’s yet unknown if, or how much, McLean will propose increasing property taxes in the next fiscal year.
McLean also announced that the city would be using $1.2 million to issue tax rebates to elderly, low-income, widowed or disabled homeowners who qualify for the state’s property tax reduction or circuit breaker program. The city will also be paying out $2 million to small businesses that were unable to get federal relief funds with a partnership of the United Way of the Treasure Valley.
She also shared the city’s plans to use $3 million to distribute to Boise’s childcare providers for incentive pay, to help retain employees at childcare facilities and lessen the financial pressures on the businesses providing an essential service.
“I hear from parents who say they can’t find affordable childcare and they’ve had to leave careers because of it. I hear from childcare providers who are facing a major labor shortage. So, we are helping to find solutions,” Mayor McLean said. “We are proud to partner with the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children to support our childcare workforce, so that Boiseans are free to pursue their dream jobs because they can find care for their kids.”
Housing, growth and climate take center stage
It wouldn’t be a City of Boise speech if affordable housing wasn’t a cornerstone.
McLean said the city would be spending $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds toward preserving existing affordable housing units. She also touted the city’s ongoing work to meet its goal of creating 1,250 new units of affordable housing by 2026. Boise’s long-running affordable housing land trust also got a shout-out, with McLean spotlighting the ongoing work to build over 200 units of affordable housing at the corner of Franklin & Orchard and the soon-to-be-launched project at State and Arthur.
On a smaller scale, she also cheered the city’s recently announced partnership with LEAP Housing Solutions to pilot tiny homes on wheels in Boise and help residents build accessory dwellings units at lower costs in exchange for renting at lower rates.
Boise’s efforts to end family homelessness also got a mention.
“Everyone in this city deserves a warm, space place to live or to spend the night,” McLean said. “As the lead agency of Our Path Home, our team got a roof over the head of 119 families experiencing homelessness and we’re still seeking ways to shelter even better.”
Another $10 million of COVID-19 relief funds will be used for climate adaptation in Boise. This includes a major upgrade to the city’s geothermal system and electrifying seven city buildings next year.
“Boise is our home,” she said. “And like a home, you make investments in it over time to make sure it provides you with what you need to thrive and to keep it up and make room as your family grows. Over the years your home might look different, but it occupies those same places in our hearts.”
‘Stand up to and stare down extremism’
McLean also touched on last October’s shooting at the Boise Towne Square Mall and sightings of anti-Semitic messages in the city over the last year.
She commended slain mall security guard Jo Acke for her bravery in confronting the shooter at the mall last fall and everyday acts of heroism from mall employees to protect shoppers, some of the workers as young as her own children. McLean said Boiseans rallied together to heal after the incident and continue to stand tall even after acts of violence rocked the city.
A batch of anti-semitic fliers distributed in the North End and graffiti of a swastika in a public park also earned a strong condemnation and a call to action. McLean said in the days after the fliers were discovered, she knocked on doors with Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee and was moved by the shows of support for all Boiseans from the residents.
“I saw people standing shoulder to shoulder against those who would intimidate their fellow Boiseans for their faith,” she said. “We have to remember these moments. We have to remember our resilience.”