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Affordable apartments in Boise remain hard to find, despite city investment

More than 21,450 affordable units are needed over the next decade, according to a City of Boise housing needs study.

BOISE, Idaho — It's tough to find an affordable apartment to rent in Boise. While the City of Boise is investing in more affordable apartments, even they say, as it stands now, it's not going to be close to enough.

Home prices are going down. They dropped more than five percent in December in Ada County, according to Intermountain MLS. But that's not enough of a drop for a lot of folks in the area to be able to buy one, so the rental market is still on fire.

"So many folks who, even though housing prices are coming down, they're not able to get into the homeownership market, because interest rates went up so significantly. All of those folks are going to continue to rent," says Nicki Hellenkamp, the Boise Mayor's Housing Advisor.

The numbers differ on whom you ask, but they are sobering, regardless. According to Zillow, the median rental price for all apartments and condos in Boise is $1,504. You'll pay about $1,388 for a studio. But if you're looking for a three bedroom, you'll be paying $1,863. And again, that's the median price. According to Hellenkamp, for an apartment to be considered affordable for a family of three, rent would be, at most, $1,100. That's just not available.

"The people who make our community run and allow our schools to function, allow our businesses to function, many of them are not making the kind of incomes that would allow them to pay $1,700 a month in rent, or even $1,500 a month in rent, or less than that,” said Hellenkamp. “And so we really need to be thinking about, 'How do we serve those folks in our community?'"

The City of Boise is trying to help. Hellenkamp says they expect to see 200 affordable units they've invested in opening this coming year. Again, those would rent for $1,100 or less. Also, 1,200 more of the City's affordable units should be opening in the next four years, according to Hellenkamp.

"It will be very important for that work to continue. And it's also not going to be enough," Hellenkamp said.

It's not going to be enough because more than 21,450 affordable units are needed over the next decade, according to the City of Boise Housing Needs Analysis. So Hellenkamp says developers are going to need to help. But why would a developer, who could get $2,000 in rent, choose to rent a place for a little more than half that? Incentives. The most recent draft of the city's zoning code rewrite would provide incentives to developers who include affordable units alongside market rate units in their new buildings. And that's already happening in buildings like the Lucy, which opened downtown last year with 40 affordable units.

"We can't do it alone,” said Hellenkamp. “We're going to continue to do everything we can. But we will continue to work very closely with our partners and welcome anyone else who would like to be part of the solution as well."

It's also a supply and demand issue. If housing prices and maybe interest rates keep coming down, more folks will be able to buy homes and reduce the demand to rent apartments. That would bring down rental costs.

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