How will the Treasure Valley house everyone coming here without driving everyone stark raving mad with traffic?
One answer is to quickly build a lot of homes where they will be most welcome, in three “opportunity zones” located near the core of the valley’s three major cities.
Op zones were created in the 2017 federal tax-cut law to direct investments into low-income, less-advantaged areas. Investments there could potentially pay zero capital gains tax if held for 10 years.
Vast sums have been pouring into funds created for this purpose nationally. So far, however, nearly all have gone into major markets. Idaho has only 18 of the country’s 8,700 op zones. Not a single dollar has come into any of them.
Bill Truax expects to change that.
Truax became a good guy in my book in 2016 after he bought a badly run-down trailer park in Garden City for redevelopment. This meant displacing poor people, including an anguished woman featured on the Statesman’s front page. Truax and the previous owner stopped collecting rent, allowed months for everyone to relocate, and gave away any moveable trailers they owned.
That property, on 43rd Street, is now home to a STEM charter school affiliated with the adjacent Boys and Girls Club of Ada County, 18 affordably priced townhouses and 14 market-rate townhouses. “We displaced people.” Truax says. “We and our partners needed this property to shine and be a fresh, affordable place to live near Downtown.”
Soon after the tax law passed, Truax created the Galena Opportunity Fund (www.galenafund.com) in Boise to invest in the Northwest. So far three housing projects have been committed, in Tacoma, the Seattle area and Provo, Utah. That’s drawn down Galena’s initial $250 million capitalization, but Truax believes so much national money is seeking a home that good Idaho projects will still be funded.
Galena expects to build 120 affordable homes plus 15,000 square feet of commercial space in Twin Falls, which Truax says is under-housed and low cost. Another project should take shape in Meridian in an op zone surrounding City Hall and the old city center.
Truax is looking for two or three substantial projects in Boise. The Boise zone is a squarish area roughly bordered by the Connector on the north, the Second Bench on the south, Orchard Street and Curtis Road on the east, and Cole Road on the west. An ideal investment would be a partnership involving education, health care or a job creator. Galena’s Provo project, for example, consists of 700 homes and an osteopathic medical school.
The question is how quickly projects such as these will come together. Time is short.
“The law favors investments that close no later than December 31, 2019,” Truax said. “That’s awfully fast, but then everything’s moving fast around here. Larger housing projects are needed in the valley’s underserved areas. Neighbors would be glad to have them, and traffic would be light. That’s what’s missing, and what we’re here for.”
Jerry Brady is a former newspaper publisher and a member of Compassionate Boise. firstname.lastname@example.org