Andrew and Shay Cruz were living in a Boise apartment complex last spring when they went looking for a house to buy. Boise home prices, they quickly learned, were out of reach for a working couple with a combined income of around $65,000 a year.
Cruz, 26, a federal security officer, and Shay, 36, who handles billing for a dermatology office, found little they could afford in the North End, where their 10-year-old son Tyran attends school. When they put in a bid for a house, someone with a bigger bank account would quickly outbid them.
Then their real estate agent showed them Adams Street Cottages. Or rather, the site on Adams Street in Garden City where nine middle-income cottages were about to be built by a Boise nonprofit. The Cruzes bought a three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house for $195,000 — the median price for new Garden City homes in 2016.
In July they moved in, the first residents in the development. The Adams Street Cottages are a “pocket neighborhood” within an existing neighborhood that has a mix of houses, from rundown trailers to newer homes. But Cruz, who once lived in a trailer, and his wife, who grew up on in one, weren’t put off by their surroundings.
“If anything,” Cruz said, the nearby homes were “a blessing, because they hid our house for us. People weren’t looking in that neighborhood.”
Garden City is a city of extremes, from gated subdivisions at its western end to aging mobile homes in the east. The heart of the residential east is Adams Street, whose main stem extends from 37th Street to 49th Street parallel to, and one-third of a mile east of, its better-known commercial cousin, Chinden Boulevard.
Today, bit by bit, Adams and adjacent streets are sprucing up and attracting new residents.
Some new homes are for a wealthier set than the Adams Street Cottages attract. These include the upscale Waterfront District along the Boise River and the coming market-rate phase of the Trailwinds Apartments near 42nd Street. The Kayak Crossing “artists lofts,” now available at Adams and 41st streets for about $260,000 each, are billed as three-level “luxury” residences in Garden City’s “hot new infill area.”
But some homes are aimed squarely at people of modest means. A Habitat for Humanity home is going up at 46th and Adams. The first phase of the Trailwinds Apartments, opened two years ago, subsidizes affordable rent prices with federal tax reimbursements.
Unlike some communities, Garden City welcomes affordable housing and residents who can’t find homes in Boise, Mayor John Evans said.
“There’s a recognition of need for affordable housing, just as long as it’s somewhere else,” he said. “But we in Garden City haven’t been resistant.”
A new charter school has plans to open in the neighborhood, Evans said. Anser Charter School is already there, on 42nd Street.
“We have made a lot of investment in the area, trying to lay the bones” for development, Evans said.
Garden City is an island, just over 4 square miles, surrounded by Boise. It has had many incarnations over the years.
It was farmland, often associated with Chinese gardeners who ran successful truck gardens there beginning around the turn of the century.
After the Legislature legalized slot machines in 1947, Boise voted against them. A group of entrepreneurs decided to incorporate Garden City in 1949 as a gambling haven. The city flourished, boomtown-style.
Everything changed in 1953 when the Idaho Supreme Court decided slot machines were illegal and the stream of money dried up. Garden City became a rough place, still known for nightclubs and for pell-mell development. The city earned a new nickname: Garbage City.
Now Garden City, trying to shake off that moniker, is attracting newcomers like the Cruzes who are priced out of Boise. It also is drawing a creative class of people who like the idea of being in the vanguard and finding cool neighborhoods that others might have overlooked or ruled out.
The city and the Ada County Highway District partnered on an Adams Street improvement project completed in 2015. Officials wanted to make the street safer, particularly for children. The improvements include new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and storm drains. The city also focused improvements, including historic-style streetlights, on 36th Street, the approach to the Waterfront District.
The improvements cost money but helped spur new development. It cost local governments less to attract new housing to an already developed area than to extend services to a new subdivision, Evans said.
“And when homes are clustered and dense, we get more value per acre,” the mayor said. “Developers have cooperated with us and made designs that are going to attract residents.”
‘It’s close to everything’
One of those developers is NeighborWorks, the nonprofit community organization known for Rake up Boise and Paint the Town. Five years ago, NeighborWorks started developing affordable housing in the form of pocket neighborhoods — small developments with lots of community space. Of five pocket neighborhoods now underway, four are on or near Adams Street.
House sizes range from 616 to 2,009 square feet. Prices range from $165,000 to $330,000.
Each project has a mix of market-rate and income-restricted properties (new owners cannot make more than 80 percent of the area’s median income, around $45,000, to be eligible). All must be owner-occupied initially. NeighborWorks offers home loans, and sometimes grants, to help buyers make down payments.
NeighborWorks serves middle and lower-class clients and first-time homebuyers. Bud Compher, the CEO, said the group wants to locate its projects where residents have access to bus routes and where they’re close to shopping centers, schools and libraries.
“We would not find ourselves in a higher-priced district,” said Steve Taylor, NeighborWorks’ director of construction and real estate development. “We probably wouldn’t find ourselves out in Kuna or Star because of the remoteness. Garden City is an up-and-coming, growing place.”
Said Compher: “It’s close to everything. Also, the Adams Street area is where we found land available. Garden City has put work into Adams Street. It’s benefited the community. And we wanted to be part of it.”
Still ‘seedy’ after all these years
As new homes go up, much of Garden City’s mixed-use character remains. Machinists and sign makers, a gun shop, a scrap yard, artists’ studios and a plumber who advertises his services with a toilet in his front yard are all part of the mix.
“Garden City is still seedy,” said Sally Simons, a retired registered nurse who has lived in a rented trailer on Adams Street for about two years.
Simons has discovered discarded syringes on her street. On some evenings, she gets a whiff of the water treatment plant upstream. She said the city is short of public trash cans, so she and her grandson Trystan, 4, pick up trash as volunteers.
She has grown accustomed to fielding comments when she tells people where she lives. “‘Oh,’ they say, ‘you live in the bad part of town.’”
Simons, who still has a Bernie for President sticker on her car, worries about the impact of gentrification on longtime residents. She’s seen evidence of people camping along the river, even as the new homes go up. But she sees the charm of her city all around her: in a neighbor’s quinceanera party that brought scores of 15-year-olds in formal wear to the block; in her modest street’s prime viewing for fireworks at Hawks Stadium, in the nature walks she and Trystan take, recently rescuing several stranded minnows near the river.
“I love this neighborhood,” Simons said. “My grandson and I can walk one way and go to Mystic Cove Park, or walk the other way and go to the Boys and Girls Club.”
A better life for a family
Family needs influenced Andrew and Shay Cruz’s decision to buy in NeighborWorks’ Adams Street Cottages.
The Cruzes were the first residents in the nine-home development at Adams and 43rd. They moved from a $595 per month apartment complex near Liberty Street and Fairview Avenue, a long commute to Lowell Elementary School in the North End .
“We put in an offer before our house was even built,” Cruz said. The couple qualified for one of NeighborWorks’ income-restricted properties, paying $195,000 for their three-bedroom house.
“I think that’s what saved us. No one else was looking at a house that wasn’t built yet.”
Cruz likes the design of his “not a cookie-cutter house.” The Boise architectural firm McKibben + Cooper, which designed Garden City’s Waterfront District, is working with NeighborWorks to design its pocket-neighborhood homes.
“I probably could have gotten more room in Nampa,” Cruz said. “But it’s nice to be home in a few minutes after work instead of an hour, with all the road construction.” It’s also a shorter trip to his stepson’s school.
Cruz and his dog run on the nearby Greenbelt every day.
Like other residents, he’s aware of the stigma still associated with Garden City.
“We’ve grown up on the lower end of things,” Cruz said. “But we both have our degrees and good jobs. We know that just because you have a crappy house doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”
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