For three years this column has looked for all the good news it could find concerning workforce and affordable housing. Since our two county governments and four of our five cities have largely punted on this challenge, we have cheered for a few brave projects in Downtown Boise. That being the only game in the Valley, we’ve been reluctant to state the obvious: even Boise’s game plan has not been remotely proportionate to the problem.
Until now. In his September State of the State address and subsequently, Boise mayor Dave Bieter sketched out a plan that could provide housing for all its citizens, not just the more affluent, thereby avoiding the fate of West Coast cities.
Let’s call the mayor’s first idea “Huddle Up, Boise!” (this being football season). By liberalizing the building code, Boise would allow greater density on the same turf. Encourage homeowners to quickly and inexpensively add small dwelling units out back. Ease up a bit on parking requirements. Permit tiny homes. In short, build smaller and live closer.
Now reduce the price of admission. Three years ago the city offered $2,000 for each new dwelling built downtown. It worked: more than 1,000 new units by 2020. So now extend this incentive to the rest of the city and make it easy if a new dwelling is sold or rented to someone making 80 percent of average local income. That’s our teachers, police and plumbers.
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These first two ideas could easily add a couple thousand homes.
Third, introduce a new offense. Use $10 million from the city and $10 million from other sources (totaling one-fifth the cost of the library) to create a “housing trust.” What is that?
We are all proud that land purchases and easements are preserving the Foothills for the public forever. Now imagine land for housing likewise placed in perpetual trust, but with lower-cost homes built upon it and sold. The homes will eventually be resold, but the land will stay in trust and remain affordable perpetually, according to the original deed. It’s a new idea for us but not for hundreds of communities nationwide, including Sandpoint, Moscow and Ketchum.
In truth, Boise is lightly occupied – mostly one-story, one house per lot – but builders are ready for greater density. We’re coming to a choice: huddle up, build up and preserve some housing land in perpetuity, or prepare for our Fastest Growing City to become the next Seattle.
Bronco Nation, whatya think?