Guest Opinions

Affordable housing needs a home in Treasure Valley

Gary Hanes
Gary Hanes

Boise has a shortage of 8,200 units of affordable housing for its very low-income citizens. That seems like a staggering number. There’s a lot of housing to build and a lot of change Boise’s neighborhoods will see. And, it’s change for the better.

“Affordable” means that a family will pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing. For example, too many four-person families with incomes of less than $30,150 per year pay excessive rents.

At a recent city of Boise hearing, testimony by dozens complained that a modest 50-unit mixed-income affordable housing project should be rejected. It was heartfelt for many. People declared adverse impacts to quality of life, property values, neighborhood character, traffic and noise, the concentration of low-income families, and their own safety.

Weeks earlier a Meridian city councilman raged against his city’s own application to use part of its Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to support affordable housing.

Besides the developer and architect, usually only a lonely voice or two supports an affordable housing proposal. This must change if Boise and surrounding communities (that also have shortages) are to build more. Neighbors’ real or imagined concerns are weighed along with staff and agency recommendations. Broader community interests are represented only when those who care show up and speak up for affordable housing.

If you’re not going to live in this housing, you may think you shouldn’t care. But you’d be wrong. There’s a lot at stake.

Affordable housing sustains economic development. Having a healthy affordable housing stock means a stable workforce that is less stressed financially or weary from long round-trip commutes to where they can afford to live. It keeps our employers competitive.

The venerable Idaho Housing and Finance Association says this: “The whole community benefits (from affordable housing). When working households, retirees and others can comfortably meet basic costs associated with local housing, they have more time, money and energy to invest locally. Communities benefit from less traffic, more stability and engaged residents. School and job attendance go up, while public costs associated with community health and safety go down.”

Affordable housing is typically developed and managed by a seasoned team with a successful track record. They undergo intrusive government scrutiny and it continues years into the operation of a project. Your other neighbors who fail to paint their house, mow the lawn or fix the fence won’t get this oversight.

Residents of affordable housing are often stereotyped as criminals. They are the young family, mechanic, bartender, janitor and waitress you already know because they live and work here. As tenants they will have undergone criminal background checks unlike your other neighbors.

And, property values … well, most studies show affordable housing having no negative impacts.

It’s time to give organization to the voices for affordable housing. Advocates, businesses and citizens must let local officials know we need affordable housing and we support building it in our communities.

Affordable housing? Yes, in our backyards.

Gary Hanes lives in Boise and has spent a professional lifetime working on affordable housing.