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Amid growth, our futile search for the $100,000 house

Jerry Brady
Jerry Brady

“We’re stuck in this bad spot,” Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said during a May 22 City Council session devoted to “Growing Our Housing.”

How true.

While Boise has become steadily more livable – with more parks, open space, libraries, arts and employment – it is quickly becoming less affordable. The average new Boise home is now beyond the reach of the average Boise income; Californians are buying homes here above the asking price, and rents are trending toward West Coast conditions.

Boise devotes considerable money to housing, promotes downtown living and adds its own money to projects built with federal tax credits. The latest example, Adare Manor, is on land donated by the city. But here’s the reality: Tax credits are scarce and less valuable than previously, and Adare’s 134 units cost $213,000 each. That solution cannot be multiplied. Boise must build hundreds of “tiny homes” closer to $100,000 each.

Last January, Boise substantially reduced its fee for homes under 700 square feet. This includes “accessory dwelling units,” small homes in the backyards and alleys of existing homes. They can be approved without a hearing, occupied by nonrelatives and rented out. Hundreds of lots close to downtown are eligible. Why is this not widely advertised?

We’ve written before about 320- and 640-square-foot homes built with shipping containers. Boise’s IndieDwell can cluster them, place one on top of another, and eventually create small complexes closer to $100,000 per unit. In many Boise building zones, 43 dwellings can be built on a single acre. When will builders start doing so?

Another possibility is to import small homes manufactured in Asia. That may sound unlikely, but if we fully acknowledge the problem, a lot of prospects emerge. A dozen cities have declared a “housing emergency,” loosening building and parking rules. Ordinary Boiseans are in this “bad spot.” They need relief.

In two of the past three years, the world’s highest award in architecture, The Pritzker Prize, has gone to architects providing low-cost housing in unprecedented ways. Chile’s Alejandro Aravena, for example, builds “half of a good home” and lets residents finish the rest. Unthinkable? What did Einstein tell us?

“A problem cannot be solved with the same thinking that created it.”

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise. Email him at