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Idaho short 24,486 affordable rentals according to new report

"There is a national shortage of affordable housing that has just happened over the last several years in the United States," Ali Rabe said.

BOISE, Idaho — Affordable housing - it is an issue that is often talked about, but recently, not something Idaho has seen enough of. 

Idaho is short 24,486 affordable and available rental units for its lowest income renters, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition 

"They do an assessment of all the housing that’s available in the United States. They found in every single state there’s a shortage of affordable housing for people who are extremely-low income," Ali Rabe, executive director for Jesse Tree said. "In Idaho, we have a shortage of over 24,000 homes for folks who are extremely-low income. I will say too that some of their numbers are based on fair-market rents, so that means they’re not always based on actual market rate. So I believe that number is even higher than what’s listed in the report.”

Jesse Tree is a nonprofit that focuses on preventing evictions in the Treasure Valley. They offer emergency rent assistance and services to households at risk of eviction and homelessness. 

"Just in the last two years we’ve seen a 40% rent increase just in the Treasure Valley – which is defiantly not sustainable for renters’ incomes or budgets," Rabe said. "So just with growth in population, the huge boom that we’ve seen, there’s a big supply shortage."

The National Low Income Coalition's report surveyed the number of affordable and available rental units for households who are extremely low income - making 30% or less of an area's median income. 

The affordable housing shortage has not only affected Idaho.

"There is a national shortage of affordable housing that has just happened over the last several years in the United States. A lot of challenges with keeping up with growth, especially in urban areas like the Treasure Valley where so many people are moving here, it’s really hard to keep up with demand for housing," Rabe said. 

"There have also been a lot of issues with labor, materials, supplies, especially in the last few years," Rabe said. "Because of that, we’ve fallen behind in housing development. Also, just inherently the market tends to create more housing that’s not affordable. Because developers are more likely to create multi-family developments where they can rent at a higher level. And a lot of more affordable unites eventually get converted to higher-market rentals, or homeownership situations, or AirBnBs. So we’ve also seen over the last several years, just naturally in the market, a tendency to create more expensive housing. And with that, a disappearance of affordable housing.”

The problem is exacerbated in Idaho's resort cities, like Ketchum and Sun Valley, where many rentals are used for vacation rentals or second homes. 

"There’s really nowhere for regular working people who live in those cities to go," Rabe said. 

With higher demand in more populated areas, renters have had to turn to outside city limits to find affordable places to live.

“When urban centers where jobs live don’t have enough housing to accommodate workers, that is very expensive," Rabe said. "Because it puts a lot of strain on infrastructure, transportation in particular, and our environment, with people needing to commute to and from work. It’s also a huge strain for families that have to commute one hour each way."

The report says that in Idaho, only 42 rental units are affordable and available for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. But that stat is worse in other states.

“I believe Idaho is different because we’re not a California or an Oregon or a Washington, or other states that have a serious homeless problem yet," Rabe said. "Because the housing crisis is so new for many of our communities. So I think we have a unique opportunity to be proactive and get ahead of this problem, prevent homelessness from happening to our communities and to our state by trying to think about solutions to these problems.”

Rabe says there is no single easy fix to solve the affordable housing crisis, but government intervention can help.

"Research has shown that naturally, the market doesn’t create housing that’s affordable to people at lower income levels who are working," Rabe said. "It takes government intervention sometimes to do that. Whether it’s gap financing for affordable housing development, whether it’s land-banking and government purchasing land for developers to build on, whether it’s creating property tax credits or other financial incentives for developers to build or set aside units for affordable housing. There are a lot of things that governments can do at the city, county, and state levels. So it kind of depends on the city and how they’ve been able to respond to that issue.”

Rabe says that Boise has done a better job than a lot of localities to create affordable housing in previous years, but the city is still thousands of units short of what they need.

Another solution that Rabe says could help is a Housing Trust Fund. 

"Essentially, it’s financing that developers can access when they’re trying to build affordable housing," Rabe said. "Because right now, the challenge with creating affordable housing is financing. That’s the huge challenge because land is so expensive, materials, labor, supplies – all huge challenges for people to meet the bottom line when they’re trying to build affordable housing. So they need a financing gap backfill. Housing trust funds can be used for that purpose. Idaho just put $50 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding into workforce housing development, which will create 1000 units of affordable housing in Idaho. So we need more solutions like that at the state level.”

Renters who are facing eviction can apply for emergency rent assistance on Jesse Tree's website

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