Listen: The Treasure Valley Is In A Low-Income Housing Crisis

Nov 5, 2015

One of the emerging issues in the Treasure Valley over the last few years is the shrinking number of affordable housing units. As the housing market has improved and people continue to move to the area, rents have gone up and the number of available units has also declined. Our Adam Cotterell has been following the issue and he briefed All Things Considered host Samantha Wright on what many who deal with housing issues in the public, nonprofit and business sectors are calling a low-income housing crisis.

 

Experts say people who are low income or even moderate income are having a very hard time finding a place to live. Vacancy rates have been at record lows for a couple of years: between 2 and 4 percent depending on the size of unit. And in the last three years rents have increased as much as 30 percent for some sizes of apartments or houses.

If you were looking for an apartment, say in Ada County early this year, there were more than 14,400 units in large apartment complexes. Fewer than 400 of those were open.

Vacancy Rates Across Ada County
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Q: Who is being hurt by this housing crisis?

A: People with moderate incomes are having a tough time but the most vulnerable residents are the worst off. Take people who qualify for housing assistance through the Boise / Ada County Housing Authority. That can include homeless families, people with disabilities and vets with PTSD.

They have to wait for many months to get a voucher, which is basically government assistance to help them pay rent. Once they get a voucher they have a few months to find a place or they lose the voucher. More than a third of people who get the vouchers now lose them because no one will rent to them.

Housing authority director Deanna Watson is one of the people who says we’re in a crisis. Her organization is desperate to find landlords willing to rent to with people with vouchers.

“Those [vouchers] are really popular when landlords are trying to fill units. But they’re seen as burdensome and red tape when there’s ten people lined up and nine can pay the full rent,” Watson says.

Q: It sounds like a landlords’ market, if you will?

A : It is. And that’s coming out of several very bad years to be a landlord during the Great Recession. The good rental market is attracting a lot of out-of-state investment.

For example, I talked with Nicolas Davidson, an asset manager with Kennedy Wilson Multifamily Management Group, which owns rentals in several western states. The company recently bought a big complex on Main and Whitewater, its first investment in Boise.

“It’s a really interesting market. It’s an up and coming market. There’s a lot of job growth and migration. I think Boise is starting to be more well-known,” Davidson says.

The company is now remodeling apartments and will raise rents as a result.

Q: In some ways though, isn’t this a sign that things are going pretty well in the Boise area?  

A: You can certainly say an improving economy is one of the things contributing to the state of the rental market. But something we’ve heard many times over the last few years - the economic rebound has not reached the people at the lower end of the economy. Many people told me that we would not be in a crisis if wages were going up anywhere near the rate rents are going up.

Nora Carpenter, head of the United Way of the Treasure Valley says about 40 percent of Valley residents spend more than the recommended maximum of 30 percent of their income on housing.

“If you are in a position where your cost of housing is too high for your budget, there is no question that one simple life event, even a minor medical emergency, can be the singular tipping point that can start a family on the process of losing their housing,” Carpenter says.

Carpenter says more and more people are being pushed out of Boise, to the places like the west end of the Treasure Valley. That she says, creates a new set of problems for the families involved, like transportation.  

Q: Are there any solutions in the works?

A: Well, Carpenter says different groups are having conversations about what can be done but she says what’s needed is for everyone with something at stake in this, including government, businesses and nonprofits, to come together and figure something out.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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