During a Tuesday evening work session, Meridian City Council discussed how the city can play a role in creating affordable housing.
Council Member Jessica Perreault came to the session with a presentation seeking to get an idea of where everyone’s head was at for funding affordable housing. The first question she asked was if the city should play a role in fulfilling the housing needs of residents.
Council Member Liz Strader responded by saying that the biggest drivers of housing costs are out of the city’s control.
“Supply and demand help determine the price of housing. And especially I think, the interest rate environment set by the Federal Reserve, indirectly through its banking policies,” Strader said. “And so I think what I’m struggling with is… we’ve had a lack of affordable housing in the city, and that is a nationwide problem this is not unique to our city. And it is a huge need. It’s like an ocean of need, but the main drivers of the price of housing are not within the control of the city of Meridian.”
Council members seemed to generally agree with Strader’s sentiment that there are a lot of challenges relating to housing that the city has no control over. Council Member Joe Borton added that the city can control some aspects, even if limited.
“The manner in which we minimize the way we regulate and the efficiencies we create in our development community’s ability to provide these unique housing opportunities, diverse opportunities, that’s meaningful,” Borton said. “It doesn’t solve problems by any stretch, but it certainly plays a role in trying to encourage and assist someone to take the risk to bring this product to the market.”
Perreault suggested that Meridian implement a policy that would make working with nonprofits on affordable housing more effective.
“This year we received two significant requests to financially participate in affordable housing efforts by two local nonprofits. Not having a housing policy to guide their response to those requests made the process challenging for both nonprofits and the city,” she said. “So in the future, if we have these requests come before us, the entities that make those requests have really no idea what to expect when they come and discuss housing with the city of Meridian because we don’t have a policy… (we have) a comprehensive plan and the strategic plan that say that we are committed to encouraging workforce housing, but we don’t have any guidelines.”
Perreault didn’t present any solutions to the questions posed because she said the council first needs to decide if they are “willing to play a part.”
“Really, the question is, do we want to have a part in this? And if we do, what do we want that to look like? Until we decide that, because I haven’t heard a consensus on that yet, then there’s no point in me presenting any solutions,” she said. “So for this evening, this is just a series of questions to help understand where we as a council are and understand what we believe our role should be. And if we don’t come to some sort of similar thinking about our role in housing in our community, I don’t know how we’ll ever find consensus on any solution.”
Strader suggested that if the council were to focus on finding common ground, rather than just asking questions, it could be a more productive conversation.
“I just think it’s hard to say we need a policy,” she said. “I don’t know if we all agree on the principles that a policy would be based on… I think some people on council think that there is a real value in trying to prevent homelessness. To some extent. I heard that a lot of council shares a belief that it’s important to try to help Meridian residents stay in Meridian. Things like that. I think if you sort of started with things you think there’s some consensus on maybe that would lead us to some policy recommendations?”
The plan is to eventually come back to the dais and further discuss the issue of housing in Meridian.