There is No Government Housing in Idaho
by Kathy Rose
According to Chris Basset, Executive Director of the Bonner County Housing Agency, “There is no such thing as government housing in Idaho.” It’s all subsidized such as the Section 8 program. These rentals are owned by a landlord who agrees to accept a lower rate and receives a subsidy from the government based on the market rate.
The Bonner County Housing Authority (BCHA) held a forum Tuesday, June 19th, featuring several presentations regarding the housing situation in the county. Approximately 80 people were in attendance, including two commissioners, Sandpoint officials, and other interested people who represented various organizations.
Sam Wolkenhauer, Northern Regional Economist from the Idaho Department of Labor, shared a presentation that gave an overall look at the changing demographics and the effects on the county. He commented how Bonner County is losing its millennials and increasing in the number of retirees.
Sandpoint Property Management president, Ned Brandenberger spoke about his experiences regarding rental property. He noted that a typical 2 bedroom apartment is renting at $750-850 per month, while a 3 bedroom house fetches $1200-1500 per month. Since the real estate market has picked up, many owners are opting to sell their property so the pool of houses for rent is shrinking.
Brandenberger suggested several avenues to improve the housing issue. He believes that impact fees could be reduced, zoning changed, and he wants to encourage multi-family housing and increase density in the city.
Jim Haynes of Realm Partners, explained the current and recent real estate marketing trends compared to other counties in the state. His projection of the number of single family home sales is down 5.3% and the median home price is also down by 5.5% in Bonner County, over 2016.
After lunch, Keri Stark of the United Way reported about the ALICE program. ALICE refers to those who are “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed”. She showed that in 2014 over 40% of the Bonner County residents were either below the poverty level or in ALICE.
Stark also provided scenarios for families on a “survival budget” or a “stability budget”. One of the areas suggested to address is affordable childcare that also provides a quality educational curriculum and healthy food items.
Community engagement was the topic from Mark Dahlquist of NeighborWorks, Pocatello. Mr. Dahlquist spoke passionately about how the program is transforming the physical neighborhoods as well as the traditional perception of them. NeighborWorks of Pocatello has been intimately involved in saving homes and helping people acquire them. For more information go to http://nwpocatello.org.
Focusing on local effort, Chris Bassett brought the forum back to Bonner County and the challenges we face in our own community. The idea of community land trust, whether established by a local business or a municipality, would take the land cost out of the equation. These would be available to potential home buyers similar to a condo style purchase, with a ground lease.
The Bonner County Housing Agency offers home buyer workshops, they partner with non-profit housing organizations. BCHA works with home buyers who have a minimum of $500 to invest, and has access to various programs such as matching grants by Wells Fargo.
After a time for round table discussions, several ideas were voiced that echoed other urban communities nationwide. The two main issues were affordable housing and job opportunities. Suggestions from those in attendance included rezoning to allow for taller building structures, raising the minimum wage, marketing our area to businesses, establishing community land trusts, encouraging business to add benefits such as daycare, determine opportunity parcels for development, and smaller housing units.
The BCHA plans to hold forums in the future to continue the discussion. For more information, they are located at 819 Highway 2 Ste 204, Sandpoint, ID, (208) 263-5720 or bonnerhousing.org.