Commentary

Here are five things Idaho developers can do to create more affordable housing

Let’s incorporate affordability from the beginning of the development process to prevent locals from being priced out, write guest columnists Sarah Cunningham and Erin Sorensen.

affordable housing graphic

Idaho developers can build more accessory dwelling units, single-occupancy apartments and encourage home sharing for senior citizens, write guest columnists Sarah Cunningham and Erin Sorensen.

It’s no secret that our state is exploding with growth.

As lifelong Treasure Valley residents, we are experiencing our state’s growing pains alongside many other Idahoans. Because our business is to help others live here – whether through real estate, conscious neighborhood development or sustainable construction – we also know housing can be done better, particularly when it comes to building in affordability from the get-go.

While it may feel like construction is happening everywhere, the Treasure Valley still lacks 24,000 affordable and available homes to meet demand. The rising cost of homes to purchase and rent is a national phenomenon. Ada County has a median price tag of $592,090 for a single-family home. Developers can and should be able to build the kind of housing that meets our community needs, and do so alongside the infrastructure – for example, public transit or proximity to commuter trails – we all benefit from.

The solution to affordable housing is not to sprawl outward, which would make us become exactly like California and other states that people are desperate to leave. Rather, we need to think outside of the box to incorporate affordability from the beginning of the development process to prevent locals and the employees our business community needs from being priced out. Here’s where to start:

  • Build more accessory dwelling units alongside single-family homes. These units typically take up a small amount of space, less than 700 square feet, and can easily be rented out. Accessory dwelling units can be built as space savers into new single-family development projects to be modified at a later date. Also, so long as lines for utilities are placed beforehand and electrical panels are sized to accommodate the additional unit, these units can be added to existing homes.

  • Build single-occupancy apartments – and ditch the parking requirements. People want to live by themselves, and with fewer people having children or starting families later in life, they need 400-square-foot options. Younger people deserve a sense of autonomy at a reduced price, and many of them don’t want to own a car but do want to live near downtown.

  • Encourage home sharing for senior homeowners. As more senior citizens struggle to afford their property taxes, mortgage, or rent, they can turn to solutions like ElderHelp in Coeur d’Alene. With the mission of matching senior homeowners with renters looking to share a space in their homes at an affordable rate, multi-generational homes are created with a greater sense of community.

  • Demand 10% for affordability. Implementing affordable housing measures is not unattainable and, contrary to popular belief, it’s a natural step in the right direction. There are grants and funding available, and connections to be made between developers and the city. The city of Boise is already starting to do so through its Housing Bonus Ordinance. By offering incentives to property owners who develop or preserve affordable housing, the ordinance helps increase the number of affordable units and helps preserve existing buildings to expand housing needs.

  • Attend the city of Boise’s zoning code rewrite open houses. The city is holding open houses for all residents to attend on July 18 and July 28 where you can learn more about the future of our city and present any concerns you may have. To RSVP, go to their website.

Very few of us need a 2,000 square-foot three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home all to ourselves. What we do need is access to parks and nature, the ability to walk or bike to work, shopping, and entertainment safely, and a sense of belonging and connection in our neighborhoods. Our development must reflect these needs.

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Sarah Cunningham
Sarah Cunningham

Sarah Cunningham founded Ethos Design+Build | Remodel in 2010 after building her career as a design consultant and project manager. She became a real estate agent in 2014. In 2021, she was named among the Idaho Business Review’s Women of the Year, and in 2022, a CEO of Influence. Sarah was born and raised in Idaho and advocates for sustainable practices in the home and community.

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Erin Sorensen
Erin Sorensen

Erin Sorensen is the vice president of engineering and construction at Ethos Design+Build | Remodel. She has extensive experience in designing, permitting and installing factory-built modular residential and commercial structures. She holds a bachelor of science in engineering from Boise State University and a credential of readiness from Harvard Business School.

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