Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Here's the real problem with growth

| October 4, 2020 1:00 AM

It was just a handful of words from the mouth of David Callahan, Kootenai County's esteemed community development director, but the simple sentence felt like someone had dropped a stack of construction permits on somebody's head.

"To me, what you are seeing is the inevitable growth of cities that will continue until we get to be the size of Spokane," Callahan said.

Oh, Lord. Callahan was wrapping some perspective around the revelation that a local company has acquired over 1,000 acres with long-range plans to build more than 5,000 homes between Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene.

That story appeared in the Sept. 25 Press. With recent Sunday stories on growth in Kootenai County communities, Callahan's words crystallized a concern harbored by many: Where and when will this runaway growth end?

Please understand something. This editorial is not a stance against growth. Growth is good; its opposite is decay and eventual death.

Construction is a powerful if temporary boon to any economy.

And no matter how much long-timers might not like it, none of us holds a key to the gate that would keep newcomers out. It's a free country, thank goodness. People can move where they want to.

The inevitability of growth in this highly desirable place to live, however, is having one disastrous consequence, and we aren't talking about an inconvenience like thicker traffic or even more sobering social realities like upticks in crime. We're talking about North Idahoans who are being priced out of the community they grew up in; residents with deep roots here, some of them having known nothing else and possessing zero desire to go elsewhere to live.

Eventually, too, business will suffer because housing costs will outstrip what even the most generous small businesses can afford to pay their employees. At some point, the smiles of relatively wealthy outsiders who relocated here will contrast starkly with the frowns on the faces of those forced to go elsewhere to work and raise their families.

It doesn't have to be that way. And moratoria might not be necessary if we approach this percolating crisis wisely.

An effective, determined coalition of builders, city and county elected officials and planning experts could come together and figure out ways to manage growth sensibly, starting with affordable workforce housing on a broad scale before all the land is gone. Basic apartments costing more than $1,000 a month are beyond the reach of many local wage earners. And $250,000 for a simple home is not workforce housing, not when you've got to save $50,000 just for a down payment.

This must change so that good, hardworking people who want to stay here actually can, and the children of longtime North Idahoans who want to come back to raise their families may do so, too.

Growth takes on sinister proportions when it squeezes out the people whose sweat, blood and passion helped make the area so desirable in the first place. Time is running out. Let's act.