CALDWELL, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by The Idaho Press.
Canyon County is facing a shortage of affordable and available housing. The county of 230,000 people lacks more than 4,000 affordable units for low-income residents.
Mike Dittenber, head of the Caldwell Housing Authority, fields about 10 calls each week from people asking if they can park their RVs on the Farmway Village property, the agency's rural housing complex.
"We get calls from people who say, 'I live in an RV, and I am not sure if the police are going to cite me for trespassing. Can I park my RV at your place?'" Dittenber said.
Unfortunately, he said, he has to say no, because he doesn't have the proper permitting.
But he's looking into ways to change that.
"I think the next wave of caring for people who don't have housing is to provide an affordable RV space," Dittenber said.
If all goes well with the Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission in March, Dittenber will add 219 RV spaces at the Farmway Village property in Caldwell.
Walking through Farmway Village Wednesday morning, Dittenber explained that he came up with the idea for an RV park about 10 years ago because he often sees RVs parked in abandoned store parking lots, sometimes in city and county parks and on the side of the road.
Zoe Ann Olson, executive director of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, said the council is seeing more people than usual being displaced from their housing rentals and choosing to live in something like an RV.
"It is not ideal to have people live in RVs, but it is such a desperate need right now for people to have places to live that they'll take what they can get," Olson said.
The Caldwell Housing Authority is in a good position to work on the RV park because it has a sewer line running from the city of Caldwell to its facility.
The housing authority's plan is to provide showers and restrooms for the RV park residents and hookups for their vehicles at a cost.
Dittenber said RV parks in Caldwell or Nampa often have strict requirements for what the vehicle looks like, and they require inspections.
"If you believe that everybody deserves housing, then you have to overlook things that prevent people from having housing," Dittenber said, explaining that sometimes for the RV park the housing authority might do inspections, but it wouldn't require specific years or makes of vehicles. He also said it may be necessary to overlook things such as bad credit, low income and a poor rental history with tenants.
Dittenber said the RV park tenants would not be required to have a short-term lease and could stay as long as they needed and the housing authority would work with them if they needed work or amenities for their vehicles.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING SHORTAGE
Canyon County has a deficit of 4,325 affordable and available homes for the renters with the lowest incomes, or renters who make less than 30% of the median family income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The national coalition found the county only has 26 available and affordable units for each 100 renters with incomes under $33,754, the median income.
"It is incredibly apparent in Canyon County that it is very difficult for people with moderate to low income to find a place to live," said Kendra Knighten, policy associate with the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
The fair market rent for a modest two-bedroom home in Canyon County is $941, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In order to afford this rent without experiencing housing cost-burden, a renter would need to work full time, 40 hours, at $18.10, Knighten wrote in an email to the Idaho Press. The average renter wage in Canyon County is $12.12, meaning the average renter has to work 60 hours each week to afford a modest two-bedroom home. A renter earning minimum wage would have to work 100 hours a week to afford a modest two-bedroom home in Canyon County.
Nearly half, 46%, of the renters in Canyon County are categorized as households with a cost-burden, meaning the household spends more than 30% of its income on housing costs, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Olson said the Intermountain Fair Housing Council has also seen an increase in calls from struggling renters in Canyon County. She said renters are struggling there because their wages no longer support them with the cost of rentals in the county.
"The need (for affordable housing) has outgrown what exists in Canyon County, and people are cost-burdened," Olson said.
For Dittenber, the bottom line is that everybody deserves housing, and he is willing to do what he can to make that a reality for Canyon County residents.
His proposed RV park requires a conditional use permit that would allow the park to be built on the land zoned for agricultural use. Dittenber said he will have a meeting with Planning and Zoning in March. He hopes to break ground in May 2021.
Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.