North Idaho businesses identify housing as severe issue affecting success

Task force of public, private representatives to hold first meeting Monday to identify solutions

By: - August 9, 2021 4:28 am
Homes under construction

The program would allow a low-income family in need of adequate housing to help build and purchase their own home at an affordable cost. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun).

The task force that will examine workforce housing needs in the Sandpoint area of Idaho will have its first meeting on Monday to discuss the issue of a lack of affordable housing and how it is affecting local businesses.

The task force is led by Mayor Shelby Rognstad and includes individuals from the area’s largest organizations, such as Litehouse Inc. and Lake Pend Oreille School District.

“I’m thrilled at the caliber of participants that have joined this effort,” Rognstad said.

The first meeting will focus on results from a workforce housing needs assessment survey sent on July 13 to businesses across the area in all industries, including health care, agriculture, manufacturing, retail and more.

The survey represents the needs of over 3,300 full-time employees across 127 businesses, as well as 478 part-time employees. The employers were able to skip questions if they desired, but the survey showed about 300 employees were known to be looking to purchase a home, while nearly 400 were looking for rental housing.

One question asked how many potential recruits had not been hired in the past three years because of poor housing availability or affordability, and 108 businesses identified 586 recruits, in addition to 342 employees who had left the organization because of housing issues.

Out of 124 businesses that responded, 56.5% said current housing conditions detract from the success of the business, while 19.4% said it was unclear how housing was affecting success.

The numbers were clearer among those who said the availability of housing to purchase was a problem. Of 121 businesses who answered, nearly 70% said it was a severe or very severe problem, while 18% identified it as a moderately severe problem. An even higher percentage, nearly 78%, said rental housing availability was a severe or very severe issue.

The survey also asked about positions unfilled at the organization, and 120 of the businesses identified 438 open positions. Compared to past years, 81.6% of respondents said it was more difficult or far more difficult to fill those jobs now, and 48.3% said housing availability had a significant effect on their ability to fill the positions.

Most business owners said they have not taken any steps so far to address workforce housing needs, but 59% said they have increased employee wages in the past year because of housing affordability.

Rognstad hopes to identify public-private partnerships that could help address these issues, and has already promoted one partnership between the Bonner Community Housing Agency and a private local landowner.

At the first meeting, the task force members will also discuss the task force’s purpose and function and a mission statement. Rognstad said the task force will meet regularly for an indefinite amount of time as they work to identify solutions.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.