Business

This Boise nonprofit works to ease the affordable-housing crisis, one home at a time

When Windy Court opens in the next few months off Old Horseshoe Bend Road, it will provide homes for four low-income families.

It won’t make much of a dent in the 9,500 new housing units the city of Boise says will be needed in the next decade in Idaho’s capital city. But it’s a start.

The new homes, built from used shipping containers by Boise-based IndieDwell, have four bedrooms and two bathrooms each. They will rent for $843 a month, including utilities.

“That’s significantly below market rate,” said Bart Cochran, 39, founder of Leap Charities, a Boise nonprofit that is developing the complex at 10000 W. Shields Ave. “They’re attractive, they’re high-quality, they’re energy-efficient and they really put a lot of thought into how to make them durable.”

Boise residents Cay and Ron Marquart had owned the land the homes sit on. The retired couple, who moved to Boise 12 years ago from Nebraska after retiring, originally were interested in a project that could keep people out of homeless shelters.

“Our idea was that if we could come up with something like tiny houses or a boarding house model, we could prevent people from going into homelessness,” Cay Marquart said.

They were unable to get the property rezoned for that type of use, and they later opted to donate the three-quarter-acre lot to Leap when they heard the nonprofit was interested in providing housing for low-income families.

Marquart said her parents, Keith and June Windrum, instilled in her values to help other people. Windy Court was named in honor of Keith Windrum, who was a judge in Nebraska known by his nickname, Windy.

“They saved their money and provided us with an example to give that money away to organizations or people who need it,” she said. “That’s always been a passion I learned from them.”

Leap is obtaining an adjoining property where four additional container homes will be sited.

The National Housing Trust Fund, which provides money for housing programs for low-income families, loaned $939,000 for the first four homes. A federal neighborhood stabilization program is providing about $1.1 million in loans. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association will administer funding for both projects.

It’s unclear when families will be able to move into the first four homes, but likely within the next few months. While all four homes are in place, there’s still work to be completed to provide covered carports, paving and landscaping.

Leap plans to begin accepting applications for the first four homes in April. Preference will be given to families with at least one member with a disability or is 65 or older.

Cochran grew up in Sandpoint and studied at the University of Idaho, where he served as student body president. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance, graduating in 2003.

He spent a year working as a credit manager for Wells Fargo and later founded a real estate investment company. He created Leap Charities 10 years ago and in 2011 formed Property People, a property management company. The company donates 10 percent of its gross sales to Leap Charities.

Cochran said he’s long felt drawn to what he calls vulnerable people and to help them.

“It’s always been a part of my faith, my spiritual faith,” he said. “There’s this image that everybody was created equal, that we were all created in God’s image.”

But he found often that doesn’t play out in real life. And he wanted to do something about that.

“That was the big driver,” said Cochran. “I felt nudged forward by my faith.”

Property People donates 10 percent of its gross income — $96,000 through December 2018 — to Leap Charities. The nonprofit had $167,459 in revenue in 2017, according to its tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service. It paid out $32,697 in grants and had a balance of $120,190.

Besides developing affordable housing, Leap Charities offers three other housing programs.

It offers Welcome Housing for newly arrived refugees, providing a furnished residence until an apartment can be found. Leap originally found rentals it could use to temporarily house people until they could find an apartment but later bought two condominiums and rented a house on the Boise Bench.

The average family spends three weeks in those places, at a cost less than half that charged by a hotel. Nearly 200 people have used the program, which uses a host family that lives nearby to make the guests feel welcome, Cochran said.

The Yes You Can program connects first-time homebuyers with financial assistance programs, housing education and counseling. They are also paired with a real estate agent to help them to find a home and move through the process.

Recently, Leap became the Idaho affiliate for ROC USA, a national nonprofit based in Concord, New Hampshire. ROC, which stands for Resident Owned Communities, helps residents of mobile home parks buy the land underneath their homes and preserve the parks.

Last year, Cochran spoke at a meeting after the Cathedral of the Rockies floated the idea of building low-income housing on a lot it owns bordered by Fort, Hays, 11th and 12th streets. Cochran said such a project could make a big impact in Ada County, where the vacancy rate for low-income units was 0.4 percent.

On the affordable-housing front, Leap is looking for additional opportunities. Churches or other organizations with excess land might be interested in providing housing but wouldn’t know how to get it accomplished.

“That’s something we could do,” Cochran said. “We hope to get more of these projects accomplished in the coming years.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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