Affordable housing shortfall

The roofline of a recently constructed home rises into the blue sky over Caldwell, Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

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BOISE — Nearly 3,000 new housing units have been built in the city of Boise since the beginning of 2018, surpassing the city’s goal for its affordable housing strategy.

According to an internal memo obtained by a records request, 1,461 new housing units were built in Boise during 2019 after 1,402 were constructed in 2018. This is well over the city’s goal for 1,000 new housing units built in the city every year in order to keep up with demand from the Treasure Valley’s booming population.

Housing prices have skyrocketed throughout Boise and its suburbs in recent years, which has been broadly attributed to a lack of housing supply. Under former Mayor Dave Bieter, the city developed an affordable housing plan called Grow Our Housing that focused on increasing housing supply at all price points in order to combat the shortage and stabilize prices.

“I haven’t seen a lot of pricing data, but every piece of pricing data I’ve seen has said housing prices and rents are increasing, but we’re hoping at some point the excess supply is going to lower rents and could somehow at least reduce the percentage increase on single family (homes),” said Mark Lavin, Boise’s director of planning and development services.

The combination of a nationwide housing shortage and the trend of construction costs rising rapidly nationwide has hit Boise’s affordability hard. Median single family home prices in Ada County hit another record high of $363,000 in January 2020 and rents have followed suit.

According to a study conducted for the city by Burlington Associates, average rents have climbed nearly 30% in the past three years and 8.7% since last year. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $824, two bedrooms go for an average of $1,022, and three bedrooms have an average cost of $1,381.

Lavin estimated it costs in the between $250,000 and $300,000 to build a new single family home in Ada County right now, but only between $155,000 to $200,000 to build multi-family units.

Making Boise more densely populated to allow for more residents in the city and make public transportation more feasible was another cornerstone of the plan. In 2019, just over 50% of the new units constructed were multi-family units over single family homes, which is an increase from only 46% the year before.

Lavin said affordability with single family homes is possible, but much more difficult. He pointed to the example of NeighborWorks Boise, which built a cluster of homes on the Boise Bench for low income residents to purchase, which he said as helpful but only to a handful of residents. On the other hand, the city was able to open Adare affordable apartments on Fairview Avenue with 138 units in the fall of 2019.

“It’s going to be tough to create affordable housing with single family (homes),” he said. “What Neighborworks did was like 12 homes, versus what Adare did. If you get the larger unit counts and you lower the cost per unit hopefully the rents will be closer.”

Not all of the units being constructed have been at market rate. As of January, there is $6.3 million worth of affordable housing projects being planned throughout the city funded from a combination of public and private sources.

This includes the 174 unit project from developer Clay Carley on 6th and Grove with 60 units dedicated to those making 80% of the area median income or less, a 28-unit project at the corner of Maple Grove and Franklin from non-profit El-Ada and the city’s new 27-unit permanent supportive housing project for chronically homeless veterans on State Street.

Other projects in the works include a $2.6 million renovation of 80 units of city-owned affordable housing on Vista Avenue and the development of a mixed-use housing development on land the city acquired from Maverik in 2018 at the corner of Franklin and Orchard.

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