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Housing in Hayden at a crossroads

| October 9, 2021 1:00 AM

I am a Hayden homeowner who only recently became aware of the dramatic changes in zoning codes proposed in the Hayden “2040 Comprehensive Plan.” I was somewhat shocked by the proposals and feel compelled to speak out against them.

I am familiar with “mixed-use” zoning because it was introduced into my parents’ neighborhood over 20 years ago. So I have seen the destructive effects of large-scale, high-density development on my hometown. In short, it is absolutely ruinous. Some of the worst effects include:

• Dramatic drop in percentage of owner-occupied dwellings.

• Gradual loss of almost all owner-operated small businesses.

• Continually rising rents, no matter how many new units are built.

• Influx of investors driving up land prices of all types.

And these don’t even begin to consider the aesthetic, social, traffic and quality-of-life issues. There is so much wrong with the proposed zoning and Future Land Use Map for Hayden that it is hard to know where to begin, but I’ll start with three: density, home ownership and affordable housing.

1) OVERALL DENSITY

The proposed Hayden zoning plan includes over 2,700 acres designated to accommodate large-scale, high-density dwellings. The number of "housing units" built on these properties could exceed 30,000 — mostly rentals, and a "fully developed" Hayden, according to the updated sewer plan (fig 3-2) is expected to house over 75,000 people. The resulting population density would be twice that of fully developed urban centers such as Boise and Spokane. This is utterly unthinkable, and needs to be reconsidered. Until then, no projects that rely on such ill-conceived zoning should be approved.

2) HOMEOWNERSHIP VS. CORPORATE RENTALS

The percentage of owner-occupied dwellings in Hayden is nearly 80% and this is fundamental to its community character. People do not value Hayden for its urban, cosmopolitan, restaurants and nightlife, but for its cozy, hometown feel. Yet the Hayden planners not only failed to prioritize home ownership, they appear to be prepared to hand over huge swaths of the city to developers who seek to transform Hayden from a community of individual property owners to a densely populated, corporate-owned, “urban village."

In the proposed FLUM almost half of the area dedicated to residential property is zoned for high-density housing, primarily rentals. This is exactly the opposite of what healthy growth for Hayden should look like. Here are three reasons why.

First, the recent spike in home prices has been driven by families intending to purchase homes in the area. In-migration has driven up rental prices and displaced locals, but the underlying demand is for single-family homes on good-sized lots. For most Idaho families, homes and apartments are not interchangeable, and home-seekers — even “low-income” home seekers — will never be content to be permanent renters. Building large-scale, high-density apartments to solve a shortage of single-family homes, in a suburban community, makes no sense.

Second, high-density zoning raises the value of land beyond what is affordable for low-density purposes. It thereby favors large corporations over individual owners in both residential and commercial areas. This is especially true of the "mixed-use" zoning designation, which allows developers an enormous amount of freedom to build large-scale, multi-acre complexes. Over time, almost all land zoned for “mixed-use” will eventually fall into the hands of large corporations. And the effect on small independent businesses will be devastating.

Third, corporate ownership of rental property is inherently problematic because the business model of large property management firms is to continually raise nominal rents regardless of occupancy rates. Large real estate corporations collude to keep rents as high as possible for unsubsidized tenants, while benefitting from subsidies for "low-income" units. The law of supply and demand does not apply to corporations with enormous financial resources, government subsidies and no motivation to lower rental rates.” They operate as a de-facto rental cartel.

3) MOBILE HOMES VS. SUBSIDIZED LIHTC DEVELOPMENTS

The “need for affordable housing” is always the excuse for high-density development, but rural communities such as Hayden have always needed “affordable housing,” and they have a solution: manufactured homes on land zoned for this purpose. At this time, approximately 10% of Hayden housing stock is manufactured homes. They are more plentiful than apartments, and clearly preferred by most locals, yet the importance of mobile homes as a fitting solution to regional housing problems is not even addressed in the Comprehensive Plan. Instead, the focus is entirely on new, high-density development. Why is this?

One reason may have to do with government subsidies provided directly to developers. The "Low Income Housing Tax Credit," for example, offers developers extremely attractive terms for providing newly built housing units to "low-income" renters. (And since most renters are “low income,” there is no end to the need for “subsidized” units in a distorted market). The rental subsidies and tax credits are generous, developer incentives distort the entire rental market, and there are millions of dollars at stake. What could possibly go wrong?

I will refrain from discussing potential corruption and perverse incentives of the LIHTC program, but it has every appearance of yet another government program designed to "fix" a problem of inequity by destroying the natural market and permanently ratcheting up prices to benefit wealthy corporate interests.

We have seen this before with "Obamacare" providing us with $2K per month health insurance, and "guaranteed student loans" providing us with $30K per year college tuition. The LIHTC is "Obamacare for housing" and if you think socialized medicine is bad, wait until you live in a community dominated by high-density, "socialized" housing.

In summary:

• The existing 2019 zoning map and codes are a better fit for Hayden for both short- and long-term development than those proposed by the “Comprehensive Plan.”

• The “mixed-use” zoning code is a giveaway to corporate developers and destroys communities. Hayden is far better off without it.

• The comprehensive plans need to be revised to provide for lower city-wide densities, a clear preference for home-ownership opportunities and a creative look at affordable housing options that preference mobile homes and duplexes over large apartment complexes.

• Hayden citizens need to understand that their city is at a crossroads, and vote accordingly.

• • •

Teresa Roth is a resident of Hayden.

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