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Modular homes built in Caldwell make affordable housing in Boise

A row of modular homes being installed on Silver Street in Boise.
A row of modular homes being installed on Silver Street in Boise.

Drive the backroads of Southwestern Idaho and you’ll see one “modular” home after another. These are dwellings built at a nearby factory and delivered to the site.

In recent decades, farmers, farmworkers and urban workers willing to commute have built thousands of these dwellings at costs still as low as $40 a square foot for the house alone.

Such low-cost, modular homes can be found in Nampa, Caldwell and Eagle but not close to Downtown Boise. Enter Dana Zuckerman.

Zuckerman is vice chairman of Boise’s Capital City Development Corp., holder of a master’s degree in urban policy from the University of Chicago, and a North End resident with a passion for building housing that the average family — the teacher, the fireman, the construction worker — can afford to purchase near where they work.

Over the last year, Zuckerman found affordable land, gained city approval and, on June 19, joyfully watched as a giant crane delivered three one-bedroom and one two-bedroom modular homes to a thin, one-acre lot off West State Street, close to a bus line. Ralston Realty will soon list the one-bedrooms for $150,000 each and the two-bedroom for $170,000, with 10 prospects on a waiting list.

Zuckerman had hoped for a final price closer to $100,000. “Although the city was great to work with, utility, foundation and permit and code compliance costs made up more than half the total,” she says.

Nonetheless, she could sell more if she had them. She says she’ll take her payout and try again when she finds close-in affordable land.

Density is key to affordability. Zuckerman had an R-2 planned-unit-development permit, which allows 14.5 units per acre. In a Boise commercial zone, 43.5 units are permitted. Lower-density R-1 lots can be upgraded if consistent with the city’s master plan.

Kit Homebuilders of Caldwell built Zuckerman’s nifty homes. Champion of Weiser and Fleetwood of Nampa could do the same. Guerdon and Nashua of Boise build the other solution to workforce housing: modular dwellings that can be stacked one on top of another. Nashua just completed the Silver Creek Hotel in Bellevue and, like Guerdon, could do the same in Boise.

As Zuckerman and others find land for affordable housing, we’ll let you know here.

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life. This column appears in the July 19-August 15, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).