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Boise city leaders looking to create more affordable housing in the Treasure Valley

The cities of Boise and Meridian are making movement on projects to bring more affordable housing to the area for people at sixty percent of the area median income.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Housing agencies and city leaders in Idaho are creating more affordable housing projects, as the need continues to grow each year. 

In a unanimous decision by the Meridian City Council, the Housing Company, a local non-profit through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, was approved to build 52 units of affordable housing on Ustick and Linder Rd in Meridian. It will be one of the first affordable housing projects for the city.

"A healthy community needs all kinds of housing, otherwise there's a shortage of workers," said Kathyrn Almberg, the Vice President of the Housing Company.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), affordable housing is defined as housing where the occupant pays no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities. It's based on the area median income, family size, and rent in the area.

The Meridian affordable housing project will be for people at sixty percent of the area median income, according to Almberg. There will be seven buildings with one, two and three-bedroom units with several amenities like a park and laundry.

"Affordable housing is important everywhere, and as the Valley grows and housing is increased 30 percent in a single year as we saw," Almberg said. "Meridian is a prime location for access to jobs and commuting shorter distances, which long commutes also factor into housing costs."

Almberg added the farther someone has to live out of the area for affordable housing, the more expensive it will get for commuting and transportation costs.

The Meridian City Council President Brad Hoaglun said the Treasure Valley continues to grow and acknowledges the costs of rent and housing are skyrocketing with that growth.

"We saw an opportunity to put affordable housing in Meridian by approving the project," Hoaglun said. "A two-bedroom unit in Meridian is now around $1,800, yet most young couples, for example, can only afford about $1,000. We hear that and we want to be responsive where we can."

Hoaglun said the cost of living in the area has lost the City of Meridian essential workers. Last year, when the city was recruiting firefighters Hoaglund said one declined because of affordability.

"We want to compensate our firefighters and our first responders adequately for the work that they do but then to hear that they can't afford to live in our community was eye-opening," said Hoaglun.

According to Hoaglun, the Housing Company will use federal tax credits to build the Meridian affordable housing project. Almberg said the next steps will be to make an application for their funding. They're hoping for a 2023 construction start date.

Other leaders around the Treasure Valley are also looking to create solutions to the housing crisis.

"The City of Boise is really asking itself this question of what can we do as the city to try to make sure there is housing here that is affordable to people who are on Boise budgets," said Nikki Hellankamp, the housing advisor to the City of Boise Mayor's Office.

The City of Boise has a housing land trust program, which Hellankamp described as a way to use city-owned land to develop affordable housing through private-public partnerships. She added it helps accomplish the long-term affordability of the housing.

"Because as long as the city owns the land, it can include lease terms that say, 'You have to make sure the housing here is affordable to people on Boise budgets," Hellankamp said.

The city has four affordable housing projects in the works, including the MODA Franklin, which will bring hundreds of housing units to the intersection of Orchard Street and Franklin Road in Boise. The expected completion of MODA Franklin is late Oct. 2023.

"I have to say that I am grateful for affordable housing developments that have been approved, but I think we are way behind what we should be," said Executive Director of Boise City and Ada County Housing Authorities (BCACHA) Deanna Watson.

Watson believes thousands of units are needed in just the Treasure Valley alone. BCACHA has five different properties of affordable housing in Ada County they own, with a proposed sixth location on Moore St. in the works.

"We really need to have a concerted effort to find ways to get truly affordable housing developed," Watson said.

Watson explained each entities' definition of affordable housing is different, but she's seeing a lot of affordable housing in the area that still has people spending 50-70 percent of their income on rent. She believes it should be affordable based on what the family should afford, not based on what the developer has placed.

 "The price of housing has gone up so much, so fast and people just don't have the resources to draw from. You can maybe work two jobs, you can maybe work three jobs but if it really takes six jobs that's not humanly possible," Watson said.

According to the City of Boise, leaders hope to produce 1,500 units at sixty percent of the area median income and below within the next five years.

The Housing Company has 15 other affordable housing properties around the Treasure Valley with two more projects expected to begin in Canyon County later this year.

"We're happy to be part of the solution and conversation," Almberg said.

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