Community grapples with affordable housing

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KOOTENAI — Affordable housing is not still not the brightest bulb in Bonner County’s real estate marquee.

The good news is that the bulb is warmly glowing, but demand for affordable housing continues to surpass availability.

Corey Phelps, an affordable housing official with Idaho Housing & Finance, said there are 378 low-income housing units in Bonner County.

“Based on a market study, the current unmet demand is 490,” Phelps said during the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation’s What’s Happening Up North conference on Thursday.

The collaborative workshop took up housing and labor issues and solutions.

Phelps said for every 100 extremely low-income resident, only 23 of those found a billet in affordable housing. The rest are cost-burdened with rents that command larger and larger portions of the their monthly incomes.

Phelps said Idaho expects to distribute $5.5 million in tax credits against $14 million in requests.

“We were almost three times over-subscribed for the resource that we had,” said Phelps.

The state has used the tax credits to help invest in a 48-unit apartment complex for seniors in Caldwell and a 36-unit complex in McCall. Only a handful of the units will be offered at market price at each project and the rest will be priced as affordable housing.

Chris Bassett of the Bonner Community Housing Agency, a nonprofit which works with IHF and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to develop housing, said development fees and stigmas surrounding affordable housing project remain obstacles, although community land trusts could provide some relief in the dilemma.

“No matter where you sit on the topic, it is a little bit volatile, at least lately,” said Bassett.

Community land trusts involve employers, nonprofits or for-profits together or separately purchasing property and holding it in a trust. Ground leases would be sold for homes, which removes the cost of the land from the housing cost. Restrictions are baked into the trust to make sure the dwellings remain in the hands of those who need affordable housing.

“This is how the land trust stays affordable long-term,” said Bassett.

Local Realtor Jim Haynes said North Idaho housing prices are still coming up. Kootenai County saw a 15-percent increase, while Bonner and Boundary counties saw increases 9- and 10-percent increases. Haynes said the national increase is only 5-6 percent.

“Our prices have been appreciating and appreciating faster than the national levels,” said Haynes.

Haynes added that the Panhandle has allure because housing prices still remain lower than elsewhere in the West.

“What we have is a lot of people looking to move and the place they want to be is here, said Haynes. “I don’t anticipate this trend is going to change anytime soon and I expect prices to keep going up.”

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