“Energize Our Neighborhoods” might sound like the residential sales team of an energy company, or a campaign to get families to buy battery packs with a certain pink bunny on them. However, this term is really the name for a department in the city of Boise which distributes tax dollars for neighborhood beautification projects, most commonly in already affluent neighborhoods.
This department disperses tax dollars in two ways: A neighborhood association can apply for a capital grant for a large project or a mini grant for events. Mini grants can be up to $2,000 and the capital grant can be tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
The city describes its goal of funding neighborhood association projects as a way to “enrich the lives of our citizens, enhance the identity and quality of life in our neighborhoods and encourage a strong sense of community.” However, only registered neighborhood associations are eligible for these grants. Depending on the by-laws of neighborhood associations, this can exclude residents who do not own property, such as renters, and areas of houses without formed associations.
In 2018, to date, the city has dispersed $808,000 in grants. Over just the past five years, grants to neighborhood associations have totaled $2.5 million, bringing the total tab for city expenditures on neighborhoods to $6.8 million since 1997.
Capital grants have funded traffic box art, neighborhood bike racks, neighborhood signs, historic lighting, park amenities, and even replacing existing metal bus benches with new benches deemed to be more fitting to the historic style of the North End and East End neighborhoods.
Mini Grants, for just the months of August and September 2018, included funding: a band at a neighborhood picnic, a barbeque rental, snow cones, chicken meat, gift cards, banners and signs, games, and more.
While the city of Boise faces a lack of affordable housing, it is hard to justify this use of taxpayer funds to beautify neighborhoods. Plus, this very use of taxpayer funds may be contributing to the lack of affordable homes.
Only three neighborhood associations have consistently received funding from the city for projects over the past five years: the Central Bench, North End, and East End. Together, they have received $661,000, which is 26 percent of the total funds granted over the past five years, while only representing 3 of 27 neighborhood associations that have been awarded Capital Grants.
NeighborhoodScout, a real estate market analyzer, maps these exact neighborhoods as among the highest appreciating in value in the city since the year 2000. Thus, it appears that the city is either funding already affluent neighborhoods, or the city contributions are influencing the market appreciation of those neighborhoods.
Either way, this is bad news for both aspiring property owners and homeowners on the margin of affording their mortgage. Both are having money taken away from them to pay for a bike rack to beautify a house across town. For aspiring homeowners, this spending increases the value of said house across town, making it even more out of reach. In the case of those on the margin of affording their mortgage, the resulting increase in home values means their tax dollars are going toward pricing themselves out of the housing market.