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Boise mayor talks affordable housing, police at State of the City address

"When we really take the time to talk... there's always more that unites us than divides us," Mayor Lauren McLean said.

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

BOISE — Mayor Lauren McLean sees Boise as a “magical” oasis in an Idaho desert, and she hopes to keep it that way.

“We are working every day to build a city for everyone,” McLean said during Thursday’s State of the City address at JUMP in downtown Boise. “When we talk to each other, when we really take the time to talk to our neighbors on porches and in backyards and coffee shops, in our parks or on our trails, in school yards and at work, there’s always more that unites us than divides us.”

McLean, the first woman elected as mayor in Boise, also addressed affordable housing, police, small businesses and climate action.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to find a good affordable home — a place to live,” McLean said. “So, I’ve worked with public and private partners to deliver on a promise: more housing, at Boise budgets, so that kids today feel that same sense of stability that a home brings.”

Boise has invested $2 million to keep unhoused families off the street and is on target to meet the goal of producing 1,100 affordable homes by 2026. This year, Boise is on track to open 250 homes for people exiting homelessness via Permanent Supportive Housing Projects, McLean said.

McLean is also proposing protections for renters in Boise, to prevent sudden evictions from occurring frequently.

“We’ve all seen what’s happened in other cities, when they fail to prioritize housing,” McLean said. “We will not repeat the mistakes of other cities.”

Boise is the only city in Idaho to give money back to residents in the form of property tax rebates, McLean said. Next year, she plans to continue to keep property dollars in the hands of Boiseans and ensure that every person who qualifies for a rebate, receives one.

Of the 122,000 calls the Boise Police Department was involved with in 2022, 99.95% were resolved without any use of force. Since 2020, Boise has invested $14.5 million in training, equipment and officers. A new police facility is in the works, in an effort to make the Greenbelt safer than it is now.

“We provide service, prevent crime, but to be clear, we also hold folks accountable when it’s necessary,” McLean said.

In November, McLean announced an investigation into racism in the Boise Police Department after news broke that former captain Matthew Bryngelson was scheduled to participate in a white nationalist conference.

The city approved a $500,000 budget for the investigation. Before that, Bryngelson retired in August 2022, after spending over 20 years with BPD.

“We made the kind of state high-impact investments and priorities to prioritize safety, justice and accountability to keep Boise from making the mistakes that we’ve seen in other major cities in our region,” McLean said.

Boise is also investing in fire departments. McLean’s 2024 budget proposes four-person staffing on fire engines — a first for Boise. A new fire station near State Street is also in the works. Construction is expected to begin this year.

This year, Boise had its lowest property crime rate in 22 years.

Boise has provided 480 local businesses with $2 million in grants and supported childcare workers, allocating $2 million to go directly to 1,220 child care employees.

“We’ve got to make sure that kids have care, so the parents can seek opportunity and that we meet the needs of our business community,” McLean said.

The mayor’s office has recently streamlined childcare facility and licensing times, reducing costs by $120 per license.

Job growth is up 8% since pre-pandemic, McLean said, and in 2022 Micron chose Boise as its location for a multi-billion-dollar memory chip plant.

“This investment was not guaranteed by any stretch,” McLean said. “I say it was our grit, our determination, our innovation and frankly Boise’s values that helped win this $15 billion investment and thousands of jobs.”

The city is on track to be powered by clean electricity, McLean said. Boise has planted 15,000 trees and nearly 150,000 seedlings.

“Our work to protect this special place, to prepare for the future impacts of climate, to do the work that we do is about more than jobs — it’s about protecting our health, protecting our home,” McLean said. “So that the next generation inherits a clean, resilient city, rich in opportunity.”

McLean is working with several partners to make sure the Boise Depot has passenger trains again, pushing to link Boise with southern Idaho and Salt Lake City.

“Boiseans are at our best when we’re working together. We’ve always managed to beat the odds,” McLean said. “I’m grateful, deeply grateful for the opportunity that I get to work along with all of you that are here, as well as you that are not, in service to this great city.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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