BOISE — The city’s plan to address skyrocketing housing prices is coming into focus.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council approved $240,000 toward the city’s Grow Our Housing strategy to prevent an affordability crisis. This plan includes a $20 million land trust funded through public-private partnership, an affordable housing unit incentive program and shifts in zoning code to allow for denser development.
The details of the land trust, the high-profile cornerstone of the city’s playbook, are still being worked out. Land trusts are organizations that either buy or receive donations of land and use it to construct affordable housing units. Some land trusts are targeted toward home ownership, while others are used to build affordable apartment units for rent. The idea is that because the trust owns the land and leases the housing to the owner it decreases the cost for either the homeowner to buy or the developer to build apartments, making mortgages and rents lower than they would be otherwise.
The bulk of the funds approved to implement Grow Our Housing on Tuesday are specifically dedicated to hiring an outside firm to help the city parse how it will structure the land trust and if it will target homeownership or rental units. The funding package includes $80,000 for a land trust feasibility study and modeling, and an additional $25,000 for land trust related legal services.
The proposal from the city would include $10 million in funding from Boise and another $10 million in donations. According to Boise’s Housing and Community Development Division Manager AnaMarie Guiles, businesses or individuals will be able to donate either money or land to the trust. The city estimates that the trust could be used to develop between 500 and 1,000 housing units.
The land trust will be overseen by a city employee in the Planning and Development Services Department.
Guiles told council the city has experience using its land holdings to make a one-time investment in a household through programs like Habitat for Humanity, but that would not ensure the home stays affordable in the long term. She said a trust would be different because it would simultaneously allow a low-income family to sell their home and keep the equity, but also ensure the home stays affordable for another low-income family to purchase in turn.
Boise is in a unique position to address the housing affordability issue because there are still vacant or undeveloped lots throughout the city that can be purchased by the land trust. Guiles said this provides opportunity to intervene in ways that officials in densely developed cities cannot.
“I don’t see that in Seattle or San Francisco, so I’m really excited, but time is of the essence and we need to move quickly,” she told council. “I’m feeling the pressure, but also the opportunity.”
Other costs that were approved by council include a comprehensive housing analysis for $125,000 and $10,000 in operating costs.
HOUSING INCENTIVE PROGRAM
Another piece of the city’s plan is to start an affordable housing incentive program with the goal of reaching another 500 units constructed citywide by 2024. This is similar to the city’s Downtown Housing Incentive program started in 2015 that paid over $600,000 in incentives to developers for building housing at any price point in the downtown core.
The aim would be to build housing targeted toward residents making 80 percent of the area median income or below, which comes in at $51,450 per year for a family of four in Boise. Specific criteria are still being worked out, but Boise building official Jason Blais told City Council staff is considering application requirements like proximity to public transportation and social services, high-quality designs consistent with the rest of the market and mixed-income developments to prevent segregation by class. It would be for the construction of single-family homes or rental units.
Blais said the city is also considering just how much the incentive will be and if impact fees for developers will be reimbursed as part of the package. By comparison, the downtown incentive program paid out $1,000 per unit and an additional $1,000 for affordable units.
Finally, planning officials gave an update on the three-part strategy to make room for more housing through code. Grow Our Housing’s zoning changes will be rolled out starting this spring and into 2020.
The first part includes changes to the city’s ordinance relating to Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs. They are structures 600 square feet or smaller that can be added to an existing single-family lot to be rented out or lived in by a family member.
Starting this winter, the city wants to roll out a series of changes that would eliminate the requirement that the homeowner live on the property with the ADU, increase the allowable size to 700 square feet and eliminate the on-site parking requirement. The goal would be to have a series of public hearings and pass any changes by the start of the summer construction season.
Phase two of the zoning changes would change requirements for single-family residential zones to allow smaller minimum lot sizes and denser developments to be approved by right, instead of having to go through the planned unit development process and a public hearing to shrink lot sizes. The proposed changes would mean increasing the allowed density for R-1C from eight units per acre to 10 and boosting the density for R-2D from 14 units per acre to 20.
The city plans to present these changes to the public and go through the process of implementing changes in the summer or fall of 2019. Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg said she thought the proposal would not be as controversial as some have thought and she prefers that staff try to make the changes alongside the alterations to the ADU ordinance.
“I think (shrinking minimum lot sizes are ) a smaller deal than the changes to the ADUs,” Clegg said. “Rather than assume it’s going to be a big deal, why don’t we wait and see what the response is if we could.”
The final proposal for zoning code changes would be implemented in 2020 and would include creating new zoning classifications for mixed-use areas like shopping centers the city calls “activity centers.” This would allow housing to be constructed in empty lots within shopping centers that are currently vacant.
Deputy Planning Director Cody Riddle gave the example of Hillcrest Shopping Center on the Bench, which currently has an Albertsons and the Hillcrest Library branch. The west edge of the shopping center has a large empty lot that used to be a Fred Meyer, but if it were rezoned with a new classification, housing could be constructed there. Riddle said trying to remake the code with new designations would be challenging, which is why the implementation is last on the list.
“It might speak to significant changes to the code,” he said to council. “Our current code has been patched together since the ‘60s, and a new code is certainly a big effort.”