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Boise, Garden City pocket neighborhoods offer affordable homes

When our minds turn toward acts of compassion, food comes up pretty quickly. We love to feed people. The Treasure Valley supports an amazing 32 free food pantries, and 25 churches provide free meals.

We also turn to caring for people’s health, maybe helping someone who needs an operation. We give away our extra clothing.

However, the greatest unmet need today — aside from higher incomes — is not food (few actually go hungry), health care (we still have emergency rooms, reminds the governor) or clothing (a lot goes overseas). Rather, the greatest need is the subject of this section: real estate — specifically, a huge shortage of affordable homes. It’s the great blind spot in Idaho public policy.

Habitat for Humanity does wonderful work one house at a time, but what is the total need? The Idaho Housing and Finance Association says there are 79,069 households of four making less than $25,000 a year who cannot afford decent places to live.

You and I likely spend 30 percent of our income or less on housing, and most get a nice tax deduction. However, 19 percent of Boiseans spend more than 30 percent, and nearly 10 percent spend half their income or more, with no tax benefit. To cite just one consequence, United Way says an astonishing 3,400 students in the Treasure Valley are homeless.

Has the economic rebound made things better or worse? I would have said worse, since rents are rising faster than income and at least three low-income complexes have recently “flipped” after tax credits expired. Yet there are some hopeful signs.

In four new “pocket neighborhoods” — three in Garden City and one in Boise — 65 workforce-affordable homes are being built and sold by the nonprofit NeighborWorks, with a potential for many more. Two large rental projects of about 170 units will likely be built in Boise. And a $2,000 bonus the city offers for each new affordable unit seems to be attracting interest. It’s a start.

Individual acts of compassion hold the world together. But compassionate public policy is equally important. Where is the policy — or even the debate — about providing safe, healthy, affordable shelter for the 79,000 Idahoans who have none?

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life. jbrady2389@gmail.com. This column appears in the April 20-May 17, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on residential real estate.

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