McLean says she will run again, talks housing, Interfaith, jobs, climate & more in wide-ranging interview

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Boise’s mayor plans to run for another term – and says her focus on housing, the economy, jobs, and climate will continue to be a centerpiece of her agenda moving forward.

She taped a deep dive conversation for the BoiseDev podcast at the midway point of her four-year term. She says she “most definitely” will run again.

“This has been a wild ride,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been an incredible honor. It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I said when I was running that I would limit myself to (three terms).”

She said through the first two years in office – marked by the city’s response to COVID-19 and the deep impacts the pandemic had on the city’s economy – her team has made many accomplishments, but “there’s a whole bunch more in me.”

A large portion of the podcast conversation centered on housing – how the city has responded, what it will do next, what role property taxes play, the impact of job attraction, and how homelessness can be addressed.

‘Highest priority’ among many

“We came into office with housing as our highest priority,” McLean said. “We had the world turned upside down shortly after. The difficulties that Boiseans were feeling that I sensed and knew to be true from conversations I had with residents as a city council member and as a candidate have just been exacerbated by so many people choosing to live here and bring their jobs here.”

McLean said for the city, so many topics relate to each other: housing, economic development, transit, and climate.

“I look at what a government can do. I wanted to truly use a housing land trust model. As a council member, I championed that, and I wanted to see it actually happen. We’ve moved two projects through, and 370 units are in production now, but we need more.”

The city adjusted and moved forward a program that started during the administration of former mayor Dave Bieter to build housing at Franklin St. and Orchard St. on the Boise Bench on the former Franklin School site. It also acquired a site from the Ada County Highway District for housing at State St. and Arthur St. The city will own the land and lease it to developers at a low rate. The developer will then build and own a housing complex and promise to lease many or all of the units at fixed-income rates.

[Explain this to me: Boise’s affordable housing land trust]

McLean said plans for land near Julia Davis Park and next to Fire Station Five in west downtown continue to move forward.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean prepares to record the BoiseDev podcast in her office in city hall last week. Photo courtesy City of Boise

“We want to ensure we’re using our land smartly for housing at Boise budgets,” she said. “We know we need another thousand homes at affordable Boise budgets, so think firefighter, nurse, your kids’ teacher, our kids that are graduating from college and want to come home and live in the city that nurtured them.”

McLean said the city’s work to develop incentives for developers to build more housing units at affordable rates might see changes, after few applications.

“Our city is open to ideas from an incentive perspective. We tried a couple of ideas and didn’t see the results we wanted to see, so we’re going to try different ones. We want to be in a constant build-measure-learn mode of trying something, seeing if it works, and tweaking it as we’re going through it to get results on the ground.”

She said she is in touch with the business community and asking how they can help — and that business leaders are now reaching out to the city as they see a squeeze on employees.

“It’s an all hands on deck moment. I always wish we could move faster. That’s one of my things. ‘How much more can we do? How much more can we do?’,” she said, snapping her fingers. “But I think we’ve moved the needle as planned. Our teams have adapted and become more nimble because the moment has required it. We are playing catch up on affordability, and then we have a pandemic that has brought more people here all at once.”

Interfaith’s next steps

Interfaith Sanctuary State St.
Rendering of a proposed new shelter for Interfaith Sanctuary along State St. in Boise. Via The Land Group

Last week, the Boise Planning & Zoning Commission turned down an application by Interfaith Sanctuary to build a new facility along State St. The building would replace a current facility along the I-184 Connector that Interfaith sold.

Interfaith indicated it would appeal the decision, putting it in front of the Boise City Council. If the council’s six members tie, it could land on McLean to cast a tie-breaking vote.

“The council will look at the decision made (at P&Z). I heard loud and clear in the deliberations that there needed to be more information and more requirements. Residents are concerned, and they want to see more information and more requirements. And I think that’s really important, that that be part of the conversation.”

She called the year-long process “really tough” for the community.

“It would be tough wherever they propose to land. We have to remember that a low-barrier shelter is very important for our city. It’s cold outside. Folks need a place to go to sleep. It’s really important that we recognize that these folks live in our city. That we care for them with compassion.”

Bringing more jobs

Micron Idaho expansion
Micron Technology’s campus in Boise. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

In November, BoiseDev published a deeply reported story that revealed the city, as well as state leaders, were working to land a high-profile business expansion. The city cited a non-disclosure agreement in saying it could not comment – and public records requests were denied due to provisions in Idaho code shielding business attraction activities from public eyes. A Micron Technology spokesperson told BoiseDev it was working to decide where to build new fabrication facilities but declined to say if Boise was one of the cities it was considering.

McLean declined to comment on our story but did talk about why the city was trying to land higher-paying jobs in a more general way.

“People ask, ‘why are you bringing more jobs here, we don’t need more people here.’ Wages need to rise. (In a 2019 Brookings Institute report on Boise) there were industry areas that it was proposed that we improve and address – industrial etc.,” she noted. “As more and more people bring their jobs here and make it harder for Boiseans to buy homes if we want to change that dynamic – we have to do everything we can to as a city to create more opportunity for our residents because that lifts wages and will make homes more affordable.”

As BoiseDev reported last week, local employers are seeing increased competition from out-of-state businesses that can pay higher wages for at-home work.

“We’re competing in this world where jobs are from everywhere. My neighbor could be getting a San Francisco salary and be just fine in his home while we have Boise salaries. We have to take steps from an economic development standpoint.”

Anti-semetic vandalism & fliers

Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial
Flowers and signs left at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise after stickers with swastikas were removed. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

In recent months, the Boise area has seen a spate of anti-Semitic vandalism and other incidents – some centered on the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, but in other portions of town as well.

McLean said after fliers were dropped in Boise’s North End in December, she and Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee went knocking on doors to “get a pulse” on the community.

“It was reaffirmed, conversation by conversation, that Boiseans were deeply offended, and some people were scared. This stuff is designed to scare. They wanted leaders to speak up, but they wanted to be part of that too.” 

The Frank memorial or surrounding memorial have been vandalized at least twice in recent months with Nazi symbols and other hate-filled propaganda.

“That memorial is incredibly unique. When people come to visit, I love to send them down there – and they are floored. It’s the only public demonstration of the UN declaration of human rights, sitting here in Boise. It, unfortunately, attracts others who take advantage of the fact that it is there to spread their messages of hate. For so long, many in this region have associated this with an issue from the 90s or an issue from North Idaho. What’s been necessary and imperative is that we recognize that it’s an issue everywhere, and it’s a growing issue because of the lack of norms and folks being emboldened here in the region.”

McLean said this is another area where she is engaging with the business community – as well as Boise’s faith leaders.

“We want to send a signal that this is not OK, but to prevent it in the future. In these dark days, we’ve seen that Boise’s know this isn’t who we are, and it’s really not OK.”

Climate, Muroitio, COVID, property taxes

In our full 50-minute podcast, we touch on these topics in more depth, as well as the city’s climate goals, the process around Murgoitio park, the city’s evolving response to COVID-19, property tax relief, the most memorable person she met as mayor and more.

You can listen by searching BoiseDev on your favorite podcast platform, on the Listen Boise app, or with the player below.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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