National news reports trumpet the rising demand for housing, and the rapid transition from glut to scarcity. It's good news for homebuilders and, therefore, the overall economy, but with it come even greater challenges for those in need of affordable homes.
Treasure Valley is facing a serious shortage of affordable homes, with prices skyrocketing, and the problem is far broader. Fifty percent of Idaho's residents cannot afford to buy an average-priced home in their community, and one out of five cannot afford rent. The growing gap between what Idahoans earn for a living and how much they must pay for housing equates to a growing need for additional affordable housing in Idaho communities.
At Neighborhood Housing Services, which I lead, we see the challenges in Treasure Valley first-hand. We own and operate 285 affordable rental housing units located in Boise and Nampa, and those apartments are reserved for families earning at or below 60% of area median income. We can't keep up with the demand, and we are reminded every day of the importance to families and individuals of finding suitable housing.
Housing is, after all, a home, and the power of home is truly profound. Home is what centers our lives; it's where we give our children a sound start. Home is where we spend time with family and friends, but it's also where we entertain dreams of launching a career, starting a business, or taking a leadership role in our community.
At Neighborhood Housing Services, we are convinced that home is the key to thriving communities. That's why the need for affordable homes is not limited to those seeking a home. It's a societal need from which we all benefit.
Stable affordable homes are essential, for instance, to the success of public education - with children in such homes learning and achieving more in school. They are vital to health - with healthy habits taking root more easily in stable homes - and to public safety, because such homes make communities safer. Homes that are affordable are also crucial to a vibrant job-generating economy.
That's why I was pleased to travel to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to join leaders of nearly 200 housing and community development organizations from across the nation to launch a movement called Home Matters (www.HomeMattersAmerica.com). It's a unique national initiative that aims to unite America around the essential role that home plays as the bedrock for thriving lives, families, and a stronger nation. The launch was spearheaded by the National NeighborWorks Association, of which Neighborhood Housing Services is a member, with crucial support from Citi Community Development and Wells Fargo.
Joining in the launch of Home Matters were U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, who represented a broad political spectrum. Their presence together - even in a polarized Capitol - underscored that Home Matters no matter what your political beliefs are.
When the housing bubble burst, it hit Treasure Valley hard. As Entrepreneur reports, "After topping out at $220,000 in October 2008, median list prices (in Boise) fell 35% to $143,000 by April 2011." So it's comforting for many to see property values rising again. But, as they do, we must remember our fellow citizens for whom it is not good news. Those citizens, whom we try to help every day, are typically hard-working contributing members of our community, who just need an affordable home - a place in which to base their lives.
Addressing that need should be a priority for Treasure Valley. In addressing it, we should also recognize the challenge that transportation plays. Affordable housing is typically located some distance from downtown, making the cost of transportation greater and the need for a car essential. Locating affordable housing close to downtown would reduce those costs and make access to public transportation easier.
As housing prices rise, so will property valuations and tax revenues. The more that Treasure Valley invests in affordable housing, the stronger our entire community will become.
Joe Swenson is CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. in Boise.