Preventing homelessness must remain priority for Idaho

As affordability decreases, our community will see an increase in housing loss, writes Jesse Tree executive director Ali Rabe.

May 6, 2021 4:05 am
eviction notice

Idaho must make preventing homelessness a priority or our current housing crisis will only get worse, writes Jesse Tree executive director Ali Rabe. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

As we all know, the Treasure Valley is experiencing a serious housing crisis right now. A focus on prevention will be key to keeping homelessness from happening to our neighbors and the state of Idaho.

Even before the pandemic, Idaho was facing a housing crisis in which many longtime residents were being priced out of their homes or apartments. Over one-third of Treasure Valley residents were living paycheck-to-paycheck, just one financial shock away from falling behind on their rent.

Last year caused new challenges in the Treasure Valley’s housing market, with record-high growth and increases in home prices and rent. Many rentals were renovated or sold, leaving even less rentals available. There are now only 44 affordable, available housing units for every 100 households in Idaho.

As affordability decreases, our community will see an increase in housing loss. Community data shows that hundreds of households are entering the homeless system, a majority of whom are falling into homelessness for the first time in their lives. An unknown number of residents are couchsurfing and living in hotels and motels.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of formal and informal evictions occurring across the state. The federal eviction moratorium has been in place for several months, but has proven to be ineffective.

Since the moratorium was issued in September, there have been over 600 eviction hearings in Treasure Valley courts alone. A large majority of those evictions are occurring due to households’ temporary inability to pay their rent. Many property owners and managers skirt court entirely and evict renters informally – either through illegal eviction, lease non renewals, or exorbitant fees and rent increases.

The need is urgent as many of our neighbors need to find new housing in a shrinking rental market. Our team is hearing from new tenant households each day whose budgets continue to be strained by rising rents and lingering impacts of the pandemic. Many people are on the brink of eviction, with an upcoming court date or the sheriff on their doorstep. Some people we’re hearing from are about to fall into homelessness after receiving a 30-day non renewal notice from their landlord, or they have already been displaced and are couchsurfing or living in a hotel.

We can still prevent homelessness from happening to our neighbors and community. The Treasure Valley is not yet a Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco in terms of the number of people living outside. We can still get ahead of the problem of homelessness many neighboring cities face – but we must act now.

Thankfully, we know what works to prevent homelessness in the short-term. Supportive services and financial assistance provided at a critical time has been shown to be over 95% effective in our community, and nationally.

We must also seek to provide more access to housing in the mid-to-long term by increasing density and affordable inventory. Consider ways you can be a part of the solution: support nonprofits on the frontlines of the housing crisis by volunteering or donating, as many have done during Idaho Gives.

Advocate for growth and availability of affordable and dense housing in your neighborhood. Think up creative ways you could increase housing inventory by opening up a spare bedroom in your home or building a tiny home in your backyard.
Our work to prevent people from losing their housing will continue to be more necessary than ever.

It is essential that our community works together to ensure that every Idahoan receives the resources and support they need to remain stably housed.

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Ali Rabe
Ali Rabe

Prior to joining Jesse Tree, Ali Rabe was a staff attorney at HomeBase, headquartered in San Francisco, where she supported local governments and service providers in their efforts to prevent and end homelessness. Rabe is an alumnus of The College of Idaho and holds a J.D. from William & Mary Law School. She also serves in the Idaho Senate.