Affordable apartments were proposed next to Basque Block. Now they’re in question

A look at new buildings under construction in Downtown Boise

Builders are putting up new apartments, condominiums, retail and restaurant spaces, hotels and offices in Downtown Boise as the boom stretches deep into 2019. Here's what's going up now, and what's planned.
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Builders are putting up new apartments, condominiums, retail and restaurant spaces, hotels and offices in Downtown Boise as the boom stretches deep into 2019. Here's what's going up now, and what's planned.

Boise could take a step in providing affordable housing through a seven-story apartment building proposed for Downtown Boise.

Four developers — Chance Hobbs of VCD LLC, Clay Carley of Old Boise LLC, Dean Pape of deChase Miksis, and Bill Truax of the Galena Opportunity Fund — have teamed up on the project at 116 S. 6th St. on what is now a parking lot.

It’s unclear from a new application filed with the city of Boise, however, whether the apartments, which would be located across the street from the Basque Block, would actually be rented to people with limited incomes, as the foursome originally proposed, or would instead rent at market rates.

An initial application, submitted June 16, said 50 of the building’s 100 apartments would be reserved for families earning 60% of Ada County’s median income and another 50 reserved for those earning up to 100%.

The county’s median income is $73,600, according to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. A family of four earning less than $44,160 would qualify for the 60% units.

The June application said the project had received tentative approval to tap an unspecified amount of money from an affordable housing fund administered by the city. The city gets that money from grants under the HOME Investment Partnerships Program operated by HUD.

Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, said the city committed $1 million in HOME money on condition that the project also receive federal low-income tax credits. Developers depend on both subsidies to make low-income apartments financially feasible.

The June application said the developers were seeking the tax credits from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, which reviews and approves them in Idaho. The association is a self-funded corporation that administers funding for affordable housing projects throughout the state.

But a second application, filed Tuesday, lists just 60 total residential units and says nothing about serving low-income families.

Nobody is saying why. The developers aren’t talking. “I can’t say anything about that right now,” Pape said during a phone conversation Wednesday.

Gerald Hunter, the association’s executive director, could not be reached for comment Wednesday on whether the tax credits have been approved.

Pape said he and the other partners agreed not to speak publicly about the project unless all four of them agreed. The other three did not return calls from the Idaho Statesman.

Both applications say the building would have ground-floor retail shops. The application filed Tuesday also says it would have office space.

Tim Flaherty, president of the Downtown Boise Neighborhood Association, said he hasn’t heard whether the initial plans have changed. He said people he spoke with were excited about the prospect of affordable housing Downtown, where market rate apartments can cost up to $1,500 a month.

“People are like ‘Let’s do it. How do we make it so the waitress with two kids can walk to work?’” Flaherty said.

The site is just south of a string of Main Street bars, Dirty Little Roddy’s, Cactus Bar, Pengilly’s Saloon and Whiskey Bar and the newly opened StrangeLove dance club. It’s east of Leku Ona and the Basque Block on South 6th Street and across the street from CW Moore Park on South 5th.

The apartments would be built next to where Carley already plans to build a six-story, 114-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail on the same parking lot, bordered by South 5th and 6th streets and West Grove and Main streets. That parcel is on the east side of the lot. The new building would be on the west side.

Bieter has pushed for affordable housing projects as median home prices in Ada County have risen significantly. July’s median price was $349,900, up from $210,000 in 2014.

In April, the Boise City Council approved a $5 million transfer to the Grow Our Housing initiative, which encourages affordable housing projects throughout the city. It’s part of a broader drive that includes building a $20 million land trust to encourage construction of homes for low- and middle-income people, looser zoning rules to encourage more housing density, and new incentives for developers to build affordable housing.

“The mayor and City Council take every reasonable opportunity to provide incentives for the creation of affordable housing units,” Journee said in an email.

Government tools are limited, though, so Bieter and some other elected officials, planners and developers have pushed for tax breaks, reduced fees, zoning changes or bigger subsidies.

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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.