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State considers workforce housing solution

2022 housing market
Posted at 6:22 AM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 09:25:02-05

BOISE, Idaho — As employees across Idaho are pushed further from their places of work due to housing prices or having to decline a job offer because they can't find housing, the State Legislature is discussing a possible state-wide solution.

The Blaine County School District says job openings aren't getting filled because candidates just can't find somewhere affordable to live.

"At one point I thought I was going to be living in Shoshone in a house with no running water because someone knew someone who had that. And then through our hr director, she got me in touch with a realtor who had a house immediately come on the market for rent and I snagged it sight unseen," Madelyn Muschamp, an Assistant Principal in BCSD, said.

She was hired by the school district last spring and moved to Blaine County in July.

She said she's moved to other areas with competitive housing markets, but the situation in Blaine County is different.

"I would say the pricing is the highest I've ever seen for renting," Muschamp said.

She said she got lucky in the housing she was able to find, only three minutes away from her school, but many of her colleagues weren't as lucky.

"There were multiple of us that were living in campers and short-term housing trying to find somewhere to live," Kayla Burton, a principal in BCSD said.

Superintendent, Jim Foudy said many of those who were selected for positions have to decline because they can't find housing.

"But your number 2, number 3, number four candidates have already taken other jobs," he said. "It resulted in multiple positions being vacant the entire school year. We've had positions we were not able to fill that are open today."

Foudy said the school district is doing what it can to help, but it's not enough.

Related: Housing crisis solutions under discussion in Blaine County

This is why they're advocating for help from the state.

"This bill, 592 has been brought to us because there is a gap in funding that occurs when developers try to put up affordable housing," bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Scott Syme of Caldwell, said.

A developer who testified at a committee hearing for the bill said this gap financing is needed.

"When we're developing workforce housing we go and find land, we propose buildings, we work with local government to get the projects approved," Caleb Roope, from the Pacific Companies, said.

Then the developer has to figure out how to pay for the development.

"The federal government has a tax credit that's been used since 1986 that's very effective for building these buildings and then, of course, we use conventional permanent financing like you'd have a loan on any building anywhere, but there's always a gap and this fund that we're talking about today is the tool to fill that gap," he said.

Related: City of Boise to add more than 1,000 affordable homes by 2026

The proposed legislation establishes a workforce housing fund and advisory commission. The bill's statement of purpose says the commission will develop, implement and maintain a statewide workforce housing plan.

"They'll be three members from the House, three members from the Senate and three members from the public appointed by the governor. And the members from the house and the senate will include one member from the minority party," Syme said. "I want to reiterate. This bill just creates the fund and it creates the commission. It does not spend any money."

The bill recommends using American Rescue Plan Act dollars as funding.

It also recommends that gap financing come in the form of revolving loans or equity investments that will be repurposed for workforce housing.

During the committee hearing, Democrats on the panel aligned with some Republicans in favor of the bill, while other GOP members expressed opposition for the bill.

They said they took issue with the plan to use federal ARPA money to fund the initiative and believe housing should remain an open market.

"I cannot vote for ARPA funds for anything and I still contend that as the bill that was passed last year ARPA funds are borrowed from our grandchildren," Republican Rep. Karey Hanks of St. Anthony said.

But others argued our grandchildren will still have to pay for this money even if we don't use it.

"These dollars are available and we can take advantage of them for the benefit of Idahoans or they can go somewhere else to another state," Democratic Rep. Lauren Necochea of Boise said.

The bill passed the House Commerce and Human Resources committee 8-4.

The full House could debate and vote on the bill Friday.