Boise Mayor David Bieter used the themes of kindness, wonder, and imagination to guide his 2018 State of the City address.
Though he may have imagined that the solutions he proposed for Boise’s housing crisis during his speech were beneficial, I wonder how he did not realize just how detrimental some may be to the exact crisis he believes they will fix. To be kind, I’ll put it this way: Bieter believes Boise’s Grow Our Housing initiative will encourage housing development, but he does not realize that his policy prescriptions will exacerbate the problem.
The key to Bieter’s Grow Our Housing initiative comes down to its guiding principles. These include: leveraging public and private land to incentive new affordable housing projects, maximizing land use through the modification of zoning, and collaborating with partners like the city’s urban renewal agency.
But one of the latest suggestions by the city’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corporation, is to establish an industrial urban-renewal district, which would be called the Gateway East District. Residents whose homes would fall in the proposed district’s boundaries are worried that the industrial district would decrease their quality of housing. Industrial development often leads to decreased land and home values. For the 200 mobile-home residents in the area, this could mean sale of their mobile home park, decreasing the amount of affordable housing.
The mayor also wants to halt housing solutions on the other side of Boise—in the foothills. Bieter wants to end rezones and annexations after the 400 units that have already been set for construction in the area are finished. Thus, there would be no further construction of housing in the foothills.
To prohibit additional housing in the foothills and potentially decrease living options near the Boise Factory Outlet means this: Housing will need to be increased in the downtown area. And, downtown Boise is where “affordable housing” is the least-used descriptor.
Yet, downtown Boise happens to be the site for city-run housing. Such city projects include: the Adare Manor (a mixed-income, 160-unit, affordable housing project), New Path Community Housing (a 40-unit project for the chronically homeless), and Valor Pointe Veteran’s Housing (a 27-unit project for homeless veterans).
The Grow Our Housing initiative website states: “The city conservatively estimates that our community will need to develop 1,000 units annually for the next 20 years.” In order to ensure that the burden of developing this much housing does not fall exclusively on the shoulders of the city and taxpayers, action needs to be taken to encourage private development. Private builders are not going to be enticed by limitations on where they can construct housing units. They are also not going to be encouraged to focus on housing development, particularly in the Boise Factory Outlet region, if an urban renewal district is incentivizing industrial development over housing development.
What the Grow Our Housing initiative needs is a greater focus on where to loosen restrictions and a lower focus on where to tighten them. In its wording, the initiative sets itself up to reduce housing-development restrictions, especially through zoning code modifications. But, if the initiative is used improperly, it will simply exacerbate unaffordable housing.