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Zoe Ann Olson is the Executive Director at the Intermountain Fair Housing Council.

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Boise’s housing crisis is nothing new but the pandemic coupled with an influx of people moving to the state has exacerbated an already dire situation. The average price for a house has risen — a lot. According to an April 4 article by Ryan Suppe in the Idaho Press, “In January [2021], the median home price in Ada County reached an all-time high at $454,000 ...,” and “rents in Boise jumped 12.4% from January 2020 to January 2021.”

As a result, people are needing help with housing a lot now and some nonprofits have been filling in the gap. The Intermountain Fair Housing Council’s (IFHC) mission is to “ensure open and inclusive housing for all persons without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, a source of income, or disability.” According to Executive Director Zoe Ann Olsen the nonprofit has been busier than ever working to make that a reality.

April is national fair housing month — on April 11, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act which prohibits housing discrimination. This year, 2021, marks its 53rd anniversary.

In an email interview, BW asked Olsen some questions and got some answers about what the IFHC does for the community and why it is needed. People can contact IFHC at the website, ifhcidaho.org or call 1-208-383-0695.

BW: What does Intermountain Fair Housing Council do for people and can anyone contact you for help?

ZO: The Intermountain Fair Housing Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure open and inclusive housing for all persons without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, a source of income, or disability. The IFHC attempts to eradicate discrimination through education on fair housing laws, housing information and referral, housing counseling, and assistance with mediating and or filing fair housing complaints, among other things. The IFHC also provides education and outreach on fair housing laws and practices to housing providers and others.

If anyone needs fair housing information or feels that they have been discriminated against in housing — seeking access to shelter, renting, buying, or housing-related transactions, they can reach out to us for support. We coordinate with other agencies in the state and can help direct people to services that may be beneficial to their current need. Anyone can contact IFHC for help regarding their rights and responsibilities under the federal Fair Housing Act.

BW: The pandemic has exacerbated the already huge housing crisis in Idaho, can you speak to how your organization is dealing with the influx?

ZO: The need for our assistance has doubled since the start of the pandemic. We have been working hard to help people with evictions, connecting them to rental assistance when there are barriers, and navigating the CDC Eviction Moratorium so that they can remain housed. We are providing fair housing education via Zoom and social media for folks so that they know their fair housing rights and what they can do to protect themselves and their homes. We have educated and partnered with housing and shelter providers and government leaders about what their fair housing responsibilities are. We have expanded our staff to help with the number of community members all over Idaho who desperately need our help and have been applying for grants to get more help especially from attorneys to address pervasive discrimination and advocate for our community members, especially regarding mass evictions.

BW: Can you please speak to the future and what you see happening in Idaho if changes aren’t made regarding the housing crisis?

ZO: Idaho, like many states, has been experiencing a housing crisis for a long time. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. What we really need is a commitment from government, corporate, and nonprofit leaders, private businesses, hospitals, and neighbors to create truly affordable, accessible homes, policies, practices, and land use. Policies and practices that create generational wealth, health, and well being. We need just housing laws that build generational well being, expand who is protected, and source of income protection so that community members who rely on Veterans benefits, social security, and housing vouchers can afford the cost of housing. We need policies that tie income to the cost of housing and truly livable wages so one can afford housing. We need to preserve the affordable housing we have, modify empty housing across the state with people who need accessible, affordable housing, and supports and transform office and unused commercial buildings in the same manner. If Idaho does not help bridge the gap for folks that currently live here, we will lose our young people, our elders, our families, our caregivers, our essential workers, business, and our innovators. All of this must be done while preserving the environment and wildlife that make Idaho so amazing.

BW: What is the number one thing people are coming to you with for help?

ZO: According to Boise State research, Idaho is seeing 3.1 evictions per day and 189,292 households have experienced formal eviction filings in the state. That is true for IFHC — our numbers have doubled with evictions and rent increases tied to discrimination in housing and land use. We need help to keep people safe — housing is healthcare. Most of our cases are related to discrimination toward people with disabilities, and if you are a person with a disability and a person of color, have children, or LGBTQ+, the discrimination is even worse. We see a lot of reasonable accommodation requests being denied and unlawful denial of housing for people with disabilities who need service and assistance animals. Service and assistance animals are not pets under the Fair Housing Act. They are medical or therapeutic devices. We are also seeing more discrimination, especially toward community members of color. We are also seeing huge rent increases and mass evictions and displacement because of redevelopment leading to the loss of affordable, accessible housing especially for people of color, veterans, families with children, elders, and people with disabilities.

BW: If people want to help the organization what would be the most beneficial?

ZO: On April 11, 1968, seven days after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Fair Housing Act was passed. The Fair Housing Act is our commitment to fair housing and just community and the creation of generational wealth and well being through your housing and community development practices. As community members, we must uphold this commitment. Ask yourself if what you are doing is just — is it creating generational wealth and well being for everyone. If not, transform. Support and or house one person who needs housing or donate to help house someone. IFHC is always accepting donations to our organization, and we are looking to build community partnerships with people and organizations who are doing this work. Volunteers including attorneys and community members are always needed to educate, prevent evictions, and address discrimination. We encourage people to be fair housing provider by creating generational wealth and well being, empower community members and renters with knowledge, wealth, and well being, and build a beloved community where everyone thrives.

Q&A With the Executive Director of Intermountain Fair Housing Council

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