This issue of Business Insider is full of good news about the apartment market, which has roared back. But as developer Dave Wali told the Statesman in October, “All actions have a reaction.” About a third of the Valley’s renters are in worse shape now than before the market got hot.
Since 2006, rents have risen more than twice as fast as incomes, according to property managers and federal statistics. Vacancy rates are below 3 percent, pressuring prices upward, says an October report by Agnew-Beck, a consulting firm. Today, 40 percent of Ada County families pay 30 percent to 50 percent of their income for housing, and 5,000 families pay more than half. There are likely 5,000 more in Canyon County.
Last year Cooper Court focused our attention on the hundreds who are homeless in Boise. Of greater concern, however, are those 10,000 families who make up the homeless-in-waiting. They’re just one paycheck, medical bill, divorce or recession away from losing whatever home they have.
How have low-income Boiseans gotten by so far? One answer is tax credits, federal subsidies and city funding. About 2,400 of Boise’s 92,000 dwellings receive public help. None of these sources is growing. Some are declining, and all are under attack in Congress.
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The Agnew report tells us 1,600 Boise apartment units were built with federal tax credits. An additional 900 “affordable” units are privately owned — often well-managed places that take housing vouchers and know that Social Security can pay the rent. However some of these complexes could be sold, remodeled and their tenants evicted as subsidies they received 15 or 20 or more years ago expire. That’s a danger.
We have focused on the Agnew study because the city paid for its deep analysis and advice. Agnew tells us that Boise has lagged behind the rest of the state in utilizing tax credits for affordable housing. (Garden City has fared better.) That will change under new eligibility criteria but, Agnew advises, Boise should emphasize applying for credits to rehabilitate existing, largely private complexes, as well as to build new ones.
Building new affordable housing is obviously critical. But first, protect, preserve and upgrade the hundreds of apartments that serve those in greatest need so well today.
Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise. firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears in the Jan. 20-Feb. 16, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.