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Report confirms housing nightmare

Staff Writer | October 20, 2021 1:00 AM

Despite the cost of rentals reaching record highs, a recent study found that Idaho is 36th in the nation for housing assistance spending.

According to the National Apartment Association, median rents across the country have jumped 13.8% since January. Closer to home, the NAA reported that leasing in Boise has increased by 39% since March 2020.

One factor influencing cost is the lack of supply, said James Casper, Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho Executive Director.

"We have not kept up with the pace of new construction since the 2008 housing crisis," Casper said. "As a country, we've built a lot less housing for a significant time. It wasn't until 2013 or 2014 before there was a rebound in new construction."

Even with the rebound, the National Low Income Housing Coalition says the U.S. has a deficit of about 6.8 million "affordable" home units. What's more, the NLIHC found that 70% of "extremely low-income" American families are "paying more than half their income on rent."

An October report by moving company HireAHelper reported that Idaho spends $184,821,000 annually on housing and community development initiatives. Not only is that below the national allotment of $56,554,053,000, but it's less than 35 other states.

Number one on the list, according to HireAHelper, is Massachusetts, which spends $2,977,726,000 per year.

Many housing and community development initiatives are funded through state and federal grants. Most recently, COVID-19 relief dollars have played a considerable role in supporting rental and homeowner assistance programs, construction projects and area revitalization.

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association is the state branch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The CARES Act and American Rescue Plan have allocated over $175 million to IHFA for emergency rental and utility assistance to help those struggling to pay their bills.

Locally, nonprofit organizations like the Panhandle Affordable Housing Alliance and Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho help keep people in their residences.

PAHA Interim Executive Director Maggie Lyons said funding is limited and divided between programs throughout the state. Dedicated low-income housing providers apply for and receive grant dollars based on projects, Lyons said. PAHA received some funding for part of a 24-unit project built over several years as grants became available.

Another reason funding is limited, Casper said, is because the government did not build programs to meet "dynamic change in need" facing North Idahoans. He's heard many stories from clients whose rent has increased upwards of $500 in the last year.

Typically, Casper said, this situation would lead tenants to move or request a Housing Choice Voucher to supplement some or all of the cost. But due to high demand, some applicants are now looking at a waiting list of over two years — and there's no guarantee it will keep up with skyrocketing market prices.

"The whole structure of rental assistance uses fair market values to provide vouchers," Casper said. "But those increases in vouchers don't move as fast as the market we're experiencing."

Housing groups throughout the Panhandle are witnessing substantial increases in rental prices and property sales, leading to a high resident displacement rate.

"If I was paying $500 and my landlord raises it to $1,200, I don't have that extra $700. So what am I going to do?" Lyons said. "End up getting evicted or having to leave, and that is what is happening in Kootenai County."

Other factors limiting housing programs are that tax incentives are "heavily tilted toward for-profit developers." Market fluctuations and new solutions don't fit federal guidelines, Casper said.

"A lot of the money that is there is in tax incentives. So the problem for nonprofits is we don't have a tax burden to offset in the first place," he said.

Lyons believes the solution to funding limitations needs to involve all benevolence organizations thinking "outside the box" for "responsible and respectful responses to the demand of growth in our area."

"Throwing money at the problem is not a solution," she said. "The solution is thoughtful, rational programs made collaboratively with community groups that put us ahead of the curve."

Read the original report at:

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