Boise’s Glenbrook Apartments made headlines two months ago when its tenants received eviction notices. Owners wanted to renovate and raise rents and they wanted everyone out in order to do that. This was the most dramatic instance, but people all over the Treasure Valley are being forced out of their homes due to rent hikes.
Brenda Copenhaver is one of them. There is nothing on the walls of Copenhaver’s new apartment in Meridian. There’s not much furniture either: a card table, an ancient TV and a tiny piano. When she was working Copenhaver mostly taught music lessons and did other musical things.
“Before I became disabled full time, I did a lot of piano playing, played for a lot of churches in the valley over the years,” Copenhaver says.
A host of physical problems put her in a wheelchair and made it too difficult to work. Until a few weeks ago, 55-year-old Copenhaver was living in another large apartment complex in Meridian. But in August that started to change during a talk with her landlord.
“He said, ‘we are raising the rents and even though you’ve been here ten years we just didn’t understand how you could be making the rent all this time anyway because of your low income,’” Copenhaver says. “And I gave the answer that I give everybody. I said, 'well I give the credit to God but I also am a very tight budgeter.'"
Her rent was only going up about $70 a month and the housing voucher that paid the majority of it would have gone up a little as well. But her landlord said she just didn’t make enough to stay and had two months to find another place to live. Copenhaver began making dozens of calls but was repeatedly turned down. At one apartment, her housing voucher and the rules that come with it, which limit how much she can pay, left her $9 short of being able to make the rent payment.
“And they said ‘nope, won’t budge on it, this is an apartment market, not a renters' market and we can wait for the person who can make the full amount,’” Copenhaver says. “And so I was turned down for an apartment over $9.”
It is indeed a landlord’s market. Vacancy rates in the Treasure Valley are holding at record lows – between 2 and 4 percent depending on the kind of rental unit. In the last three years rents have gone up as much as 30 percent, for some sizes of apartments and rental houses.
After her time ran out, some of Copenhaver’s friends put her up in a motel for a few weeks and people at some of the churches where she had played piano found her a new apartment.
Benson Howard didn’t have that kind of support system. Like Copenhaver, Howard had a housing voucher from the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority. But a few months ago his rent went up beyond the amount of the voucher and he had to find a new place to live. Howard looked unsuccessfully for two months and is now homeless. He sleeps at the River of Life Rescue Mission.
“In Boise there’s not many places that accept vouchers and there’s places that do accept vouchers but their rent is sometimes a little bit more than the voucher so you’re kind of stuck right there, like what do I do?” Howard says.
The director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority says they have a severe shortage of landlords willing to rent to people who have had any kind of trouble in their past. More than a third of the people they grant vouchers now lose them because they can’t find a landlord willing to take them within three months.
Howard says things were good in his 20s. He didn’t make much money working in kitchens but he paid his bills and had his own place. But then, about the time he turned 30, he started suffering severe mental health problems. He says he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has had trouble keeping jobs. He is 36 now and says he’s stopped looking for an apartment. His housing situation, along with a lack of work, has caused Howard to lose hope.
“I don’t really dream about nothing anymore,” Howard says. “I know I used to have hopes and dreams but it’s like that all faded. Everything seems beyond unobtainable.”
It’s hard to quantify exactly how many people have lost their homes due to rent increases, but many affordable housing experts say it’s happening more and more. Wyatt Schroeder heads the organization CATCH, which helps homeless families get housing. Schroeder says CATCH’s waiting list is ballooning and higher rents are a big part of the problem.
“We get those calls constantly, of people just saying ‘my rent is going up, I’m not sure what to do,’” Schroeder says. “And the reality is I hope they never come through our doors. I don’t want to see them here because that means unfortunately they weren’t able to find that next house or work with their landlord.”
Rising rent is just one part of the complicated Treasure Valley housing market. But many people who deal with housing from the public, non-profit and business sectors say the Boise area is in a full-blown, low-income housing crisis.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
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