Finding affordable apartments is getting harder in Boise. A local developer has a solution: compact units.
Wendy Klahr, a developer of small housing projects, plans an apartment building on Overland Road with units of 393 square feet that could rent for $650 to $700 a month.
Klahr’s 17-unit “Prime 17” apartments would boost Boise’s supply of cramped — or cozy, if you’re the glass-half-full type — living spaces more commonly associated with big cities, like Seattle or San Francisco, where the cost of living is higher than Boise’s. The idea sprang from conversations Klahr had with her 20-something daughter and her peers, who told Klahr they like Downtown-style living but can’t afford units renting for $1,000 or $1,200 a month.
“Most of the people I talked to don’t have cars, aren’t interested in having a car — they ride either scooters or bikes — and they don’t necessarily want a lot of space,” Klahr said in a telephone interview. “They want something private, clean, nice and affordable, with easy access to transit. So that’s exactly what we created.”
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Small is trendy. The size of the average new studio apartment nationwide fell from 614 square feet in 2006 to 504 in 2016, according to RentCafe, a listing service.
“I think we’re at a unique point in the developing of Boise housing when we can create these kinds of housing options before a housing crisis slaps us in the face,” Klahr said.
The apartments would occupy a lot that now is home to two mobile businesses, a taco truck and a vehicle-emissions testing station, at 3940 W. Overland Road, on the north side of Overland between Latah and Roosevelt streets. It is just west of the Rockies Diner and across Overland from a Chicago Connection pizza restaurant.
That’s not Downtown. It’s 3 miles away. But Overland Road has east-west bus service that could carry tenants to the Boise State University campus, and Roosevelt has north-south service to Downtown.
And the savings would be substantial. In Downtown Boise, one-bedroom apartments in the soon-to-open Gibson Apartments at 505 W. Idaho St. start at $1,132 a month, according to Apartments.com. Units at The Fowler, which opened this year at 505 W. Broad St., and whose one-bedroom units have about 600 square feet, start at $1,105. A 648-square-foot one-bedroom at The Watercooler, which opened last year at 1401 W. Idaho St., rents for $1,339.
Boise’s average apartment rent is $1,035 a month, up 4 percent from one year ago, with studios averaging $770, RentCafe reports.
Meanwhile, house prices have climbed even faster. The median price of an Ada County house is $319,000, up 17 percent in the past year, according to the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service.
The escalation of Boise-area housing costs in the past couple of years has priced out many young and working-class would-be homeowners, forced some people who work in Boise to seek housing in cheaper, outlying communities like Kuna and Caldwell, and led some longtime homeowners to stay put rather than move up to bigger or nicer houses.
Boise officials are considering steps to encourage more affordable housing in city limits. The vacancy rate for affordable apartments is below 1 percent. But while affordable housing is on many Boiseans’ minds, market and political forces sometimes stand in the way. For example, the Cathedral of the Rockies’ has drawn opposition to its desire to build affordable housing on an adjacent block it owns in the Near North End.
Klahr and her husband, Brad, have developed dozens of small housing projects in Boise since 2003, though he is no longer involved. Most have been infill projects on previously undeveloped lots in developed parts of town.
Some, not all, have been aimed at affordability. On Tuesday, Klahr applied to build six 900- to 1,100-square-foot cottages to be sold for about $200,000 each on Chase Street, off Overland near Maple Grove Road.
“At every income level, people ought to have options,” she said.
Prime 17 is her first apartment project.
Klahr said it’s possible she may sell the apartments as condominiums instead, “if it comes to that,” depending on market conditions when the building is finished. The condos could sell for about $140,000 apiece. In comparison, seven Boise condos were listed Wednesday for less than $200,000 on BuyIdahoRealEstate.com, all two-bedroom units ranging from 880 to 1,260 square feet. Only 33 of the 868 homes sold through agents in all of Ada County in September sold for less than $200,000, and only four for less than $160,000.
Construction costs could range from $120 to $300 per square foot, depending on materials and finishes, Klahr said. She has chosen an architect, Jeff Hatch of Hatch Design Architecture in Boise, and a surveyor, Nate Dang, and is working to line up a builder.
Having secured the city of Boise’s approval for the apartments, Klahr said she is now buying the property from its owner, Jake Endeavors LLC, and plans to begin construction next spring. The food truck and emissions station will be allowed to stay until construction begins, she said.