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Big affordable apartment/condo complex proposed on Boise Bench just cleared key hurdle

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 16:48:54-05

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by John Sowell of the Idaho Statesman.

An affordable-housing project planned on the Boise Bench just took a step forward.

The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday unanimously recommended approval of a rezone and a conditional use permit for an affordable housing complex at the site of the old Franklin School.

J. Fisher Cos. of Centerville, Utah, is looking to build 205 multi-family units — split between apartments and condominiums — along with 6,000 square feet of business space on the 4.7-acre parcel at 313 S. Orchard St., across the street from Fred Meyer.

“I’m very encouraged by the fact we’re going to be providing so many affordable units so that people who are working a full-time job here in Boise can live here in Boise,” Commissioner Jim Bratnober said. “I think that’s terribly important.”

The planned unit development, divided among three four-story buildings and a two-story building, is proposed north and east of Franklin Park. One of the four-story buildings next to Franklin Park would have all residential units. The buildings along Orchard and Franklin would feature residences and businesses.

More than half of the units, 113, would have two bedrooms. There would also be 71 units with one bed room and 21 with three bedrooms. Underground parking would accommodate 256 vehicles.

The target tenant would be someone making 60% or less of the area median income. That equates to someone making $35,000 to $40,000 annually, depending on household size, said Jake Wood, a partner in J. Fisher Cos.

“These are people who might work at Home Depot, people that might work at a grocery store, a first-year teacher, someone just out of college or maybe a retiree on a fixed income,” Wood said.

Rents for those units would be at least 25% below market rents, he said.

BOISE RENTS, HOUSE PRICES RISE AT NATION-LEADING PACE

Market rents are rising so fast in Boise that they lead the nation in their rate of increase, according to a national apartment-rental listing service.

The median rent for a two-bedroom Boise apartment has climbed 9.1% since the pandemic began in March, to $1,015 per month, says Apartment List. That’s the highest rate of increase among midsize cities in the country. The one-bedroom median is $856.

Prices for Ada County houses have risen at nation-leading pace too, as they become ever more out of reach to middle-income buyers.

Home prices in Boise increased 16.4% in the 12 months that ended in September, faster than in any other of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The pace of increase was even faster than the 11.1% increase a year ago, when Boise also led the nation.

The median price of 1,112 homes sold in Ada County in October was $406,684, according to a report from Boise Regional Realtors.

RESTAURANT, CAFE, OUTDOOR DINING, FOOD TRUCKS

Wood said his company envisions a restaurant, cafe and other small retail shops serving nearby residents. The restaurant would include outdoor dining space that faces the park. There would also be an area dedicated for food trucks.

The city bought the property in July 2019 and solicited proposals from developers. In May, J. Fisher was chosen over four other companies.

Concerns about traffic and the loss of views from adjoining properties were raised by two neighbors. Another questioned whether lower-income residents who would live in the units would bring added crime to the area.

In the 20 multifamily projects his company has built, including five highly concentrated affordable housing complexes, Wood said crime hasn’t been a problem.

“There is a perception that high-density apartments can create more crime, but it’s actually false,” Wood said. “The data do not prove that out. Apartment buildings would be very safe and secure and create a sense of community.”

Commissioner Bob Schafer applauded Wood for proposing a “great project.”

“The proximity to the park and services is a total win,” Schafer said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to see this part of the city sort of transition to a bit more of an urban condition and get away from some of that large parking lot suburban development that you see, for example, across the street” at Fred Meyer.

The commission’s recommendations now go before the Boise City Council.