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How the City of Boise defines affordable housing; who's left behind right now

Rewarding development of affordable housing was one stated goal of the overhauled zoning code. Availability may be an ongoing concern for those who struggle most.

BOISE, Idaho — How affordable is affordable housing?

The City of Boise now has a completely overhauled zoning code. It goes into effect Dec. 1. And one of the great challenges facing our community right now is a housing shortage. So, one of the main goals of rewriting the zoning code was to try to reward developers who create affordable housing. But what does the city mean by affordable housing? How affordable is it?

Here are the guidelines for 80% of Area Median Income:

  • 1 Person - $49,950 - RENT OF $1,249
  • 2 People - $57,050 - RENT OF $1,426

Anything below 60% of Area Median Income would normally involve federal funding.

There are lots of different income levels that are covered in the new zoning code. But most often, when it's talking about affordable rentals, it's referring to rentals for folks making 80 percent of the area median income.

For a one-person household, 80 percent of the AMI in the Boise area would be $49,950. If you remember that people should not be spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, that translates to $1,249 in rent. That jumps to $1,426 for a household with two earners. Anyone making 60 percent or less than the median income would typically get some federal help, so the city is focused on folks in the 60 to 80 range. That's a lot of numbers, but the two to focus on are the rental prices of $1,249 and $1,426. That's considered affordable.

Are there a lot of affordable rentals out there? No. Right now, you'd find 50 to 60 rentals in each of those price ranges in Boise right now. That's not a lot for a city of about 250,000 people, which is why city leaders and others are working to create more affordable rentals. According to the Director of Boise Planning and Development, Tim Keane, the other problem is, there's also a rental shortage for people making an average income. So, those people are forced to snatch up those affordable units, leaving even less for the people struggling.

"When you get to people that are at 80 to 100% of area median income, if there's not sufficient housing, then they start renting or buying housing that otherwise would have been available for someone making less than that,” said Keane. “It's just this domino effect, where if you're not providing housing at moderate prices, then those people are taking housing that would otherwise be available for people that making less. That's why this is so important and been proven time and again in every city, that if you're not providing housing at every income level, then that's a problem. Then the people at the lower income levels always suffer the most."

So, this new zoning code also hopes to inspire more workforce housing, or housing at moderate prices, so people aren't snatching up all the affordable units. Will it work? That’s yet to be seen. The city will check back annually to make sure this new code is actually doing what it's supposed to, and make tweaks if they need to.

More information from the city about the code and the next steps is available here. Boise Planning and Development Services will complete three readings at Boise City Council meetings coming up on June 27, July 11 and July 18.

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