Rodney Cook works as a school bus driver, picking up students from their homes in the morning and dropping them off in the afternoon. He does this knowing that his own children don’t have a place to come home to after school.
Cook has five children, he told the Nampa City Council earlier this month. He has struggled to find an apartment to rent in the city for about six months and has been staying at the Salvation Army Community Family Shelter.
“I have the means, the ability and the job, but there is nothing that I can afford,” Cook said. “I have to explain to my children every day why we live in a shelter.”
Cook spoke to the council as it was deciding whether or not to uphold a Planning and Zoning Commission denial of a large affordable housing complex in South Nampa.
The greater Boise area, including Nampa, is facing an affordable housing crisis, advocates say. But the proposal for 252 apartments in a complex built for low-income people highlights a challenge that affordable-housing proponents face again and again: Neighborhood opposition.
In its application to Planning and Zoning, the Inland Group, an affordable-housing developer based in Spokane, cited a survey from Novogradac and Co, a professional services company for affordable-housing providers, that found around 3,768 families in Nampa need affordable workforce housing.
The Inland Group was prepared to meet some of that need with its proposal for an apartment complex with below-market rate apartments on 11.9 acres off Grays Lane in Nampa. The Inland Group would have received assistance through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association to subsidize the project.
The complex, Copper Depot Apartments, would have a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units. The apartments would have targeted households at or below 60% of the area median income.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that for 2021, the median income in Canyon County for a family of four was $75,300. So, to qualify as a renter at Copper Depot, a four-person household could earn no more than $45,180.
Neighbors fought the proposal, saying it would worsen traffic and increase crime.
Todd and Stacia Christiansen spoke during a Planning and Zoning commission meeting in April. According to the meeting minutes, the couple said they previously lived near affordable housing where there was a lot of crime and where Stacia Christiansen’s car was broken into.
The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the proposal. The commission said the three-story buildings would not be compatible with the existing properties and surrounding neighborhood. They said the buildings would harm the livability of the rest of the neighborhood.
Earlier this month, the developer appealed to the City Council. To address the planning commissioners’ concerns, Inland proposed moving the three-story buildings to the inside of the property and proposed steps to mitigate traffic on Grays Lane.
Over 70 people signed up to testify at the council meeting on June 7. Nearly all of the residents who live near or on Grays Lane were against the proposal.
The residents said traffic already backs up on Grays Lane. They worried about lack of sidewalks in the area and police response times.
The council decided to uphold Planning and Zoning’s denial.
PROPERTY OWNERS SAW MUTUAL BENEFIT
Vicki McMinn Coburn owns the property where the proposed Copper Depot apartments would have gone in. Her house, where she lives with her husband, Randy, and cuts hair, would have remained on about 2 acres of the property.
The Inland Group in November approached the Coburns about buying 12.5 acres used for grazing their cows, the Coburns said.
“(The Inland Group) was incredible to work with,” Vicki McMinn Coburn said. “Anything we wanted, they were more than happy to do anything they could for us.”
The Coburns support the Copper Depot apartments.
“We felt it was a good plan that would benefit us, the developer and the community of Nampa that has been pushed out because of rising property values and cost of living,” Randy Coburn said.
‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD’
City Council Member Jean Mutchie was the only member to vote in favor of the proposed development. She criticized the opposition.
“We are continuing to say ‘not in my backyard’, but where do these children go, where do these people go? There is no place for them,” Mutchie said at the meeting.
Natalie Sandoval, the homeless education liaison for the Nampa School District, said in an interview that she has gone to several Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, and neighbor testimony is always the same.
“I always try to be respectful of neighbors, but they always say a similar thing, ‘It is not that we are against it, it just doesn’t fit here,” Sandoval said. “Well, yes, you are against it.”
Like the planning commissioners, council members said they supported the project, but that it did not mesh with the rest of the neighborhood.
“I am impressed with the developer,” Council Member Daryl Bruner said. “There has to be another area. With all of us working together hopefully we can partner with you.”
“It has nothing to do with the people,” said Council Member Sandy Levi. “It has to do with the area.”
NAMPA FAMILIES BECOME HOMELESS
As the council and Planning and Zoning Commission struggle to find a location for affordable housing, Sandoval has listened to and watched more families in the Nampa School District fall into homelessness.
“This started pre-pandemic,” Sandoval said. “We were getting calls from parents who said, ‘We are on the verge of losing our house, they are raising the rent and I can’t absorb it, because my wages are the same and we have no place to go.”
There are 981 homeless students in the Nampa School District. Sandoval estimates that is about 500 families.
Nancy Tuttle, housing specialist for the Salvation Army in Nampa, said she is seeing more first-time homeless families and individuals than in the past.
“I have been working for the Salvation Army for 15 years, and this is the first time I have heard over and over ‘I have never experienced homelessness before and I don’t know what to do,’” Tuttle said in an interview.
The Salvation Army typically works with people who are chronically homeless, Tuttle said. That is different now.
“We were working a lot with people in the cycle of homelessness and were trying to break that cycle, but now we are trying to prevent a cycle,” Tuttle said.
SUBSIDIZED HOUSING HAS WAITING LIST
Nampa has some options for affordable housing, like the Nampa Housing Authority, but Sandoval said last time she checked, it had a 19-month waiting list.
The Idaho Housing and Finance Association offers federal Section 8 vouchers for low-income tenants.Sandoval said there is a two-year wait to get into housing where the vouchers are accepted. People living in Ada County can apply through the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority and people in Nampa can apply through the Southwestern Idaho Cooperative Housing Authority.
With so many applicants for apartments and a stigma attached to applicants with Section 8, those applicants are likely not going to be chosen, Sandoval said.
“Property owners can be choosy,” Sandoval said. “We called a property manager to advocate for a tenant and they said ‘I have 300 applicants, so I am going to pick the best one.’”
Margie Potter, development and public relations director at The Salvation Army Nampa, collected 250 signatures from residents who supported the project.
“The proposed housing development would provide with 200-plus housing units,” she told the council, “allowing us to continue to live and work in Nampa.”
The signatures did not sway the council.
Mayor Debbie Kling said the city is talking to developers and housing organizations about where a possible Inland Group affordable housing development could go. It’s a problem when individuals and families can’t find housing in their budgets that meets their needs, she said.
“It does concern me, and I don’t have the answers,” Kling said by phone. “I want our kids and grandkids to be able to afford a home in Nampa.”