Want to buy a home in Caldwell? CHA hosts affordable housing opportunity for families
Caldwell Housing Authority director Mike Dittenber said he hopes project will motivate developers to offer similar affordable housing options
The Caldwell Housing Authority, a low-cost housing provider, is selling a newly remodeled home for $170,500 to an individual or family. The house was recently appraised for $310,000, but the recipient will purchase it for 55% of its market value. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)
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The Caldwell Housing Authority is hosting a unique opportunity for first-time home buyers living in Caldwell to purchase a newly renovated home – an opportunity organizers hope developers will replicate throughout the state.
The housing authority, a low-cost housing provider, is selling a newly remodeled three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for $170,500 to an individual or family. The house was recently appraised for $310,000, but the recipient will purchase it for 55% of its market value.
According to Redfin, the median price for a Caldwell home in May was $370,000 — meaning that half of the homes were sold for higher and half sold for less. The cost for the house is near the median cost for a home in May 2018, which was $193,538.
Canyon County is particularly faced with housing affordability issues in comparison to other areas in the Treasure Valley. In 2021, about 12% of the Caldwell population was living in poverty, slightly higher than the national average at 11.6% in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that cities in Canyon County have higher poverty rates than other cities in the Treasure Valley:
- Nampa: 12.8%
- Middleton: 12.1%
- Boise: 11.6%
- Kuna: 7.1%
- Meridian: 6.8%
Located at 2407 College Ave., the housing authority obtained the property in November 2021 through a Canyon County tax deed auction. It was previously a blighted property that the authority took six months to renovate. The authority completed its renovation in June.
Mike Dittenber, the director of the Caldwell Housing Authority, told the Idaho Capital Sun that the home will be the sixth property it sells.
“We take places that are in poor shape,” Dittenber said. “That’s kind of our agreement with the county. Once we get a piece of property like this, we immediately start taking actions to improve the condition.”
The College Avenue property is the authority’s fourth property it owns in addition to two other homes and its main campus, Farmway Village.
While many of his colleagues suggested he sell the property, Dittenber said he was determined to use the property to provide affordable, quality housing to Caldwell residents.
“What I really want to see happen is for developers who are getting rich to set aside two houses and do the same thing. You may only have to spend five weeks in Cabo instead of six this winter, but you’re giving something back to the community.”
– Mike Dittenber, Caldwell Housing Authority director
Caldwell Housing Authority board of directors president, Arnoldo Hernandez, told the Sun that he hopes this project will inspire developers and other housing organizations to provide affordable buying in addition to affordable renting.
“We just felt like it was a perfect opportunity to make a family happy,” he said. “If you’re raised under a safe roof that you can call your own, families seem to do better. Money as money, but changing lives is just something totally different. That is what CHA really stands for.”
Hernandez also serves as the director of the inclusion and intercultural department at the College of Idaho, and he said he has dedicated most of his life to providing equitable housing and education solutions.
“Everything I do, I’m always going to look out for the underrepresented,” he said. “It would have been easy for us to sell it, so for us to be able to make a deal with an underrepresented family is just amazing, and I hope that more deals like this come our way.”
‘Put roots here’: Director talks affordable housing application process
Dittenber said he wants the house to go to a community member that is responsive to the various tasks laid out in the application. He said the application process is purposefully extensive.
“We want somebody to be able to put roots here and to be able to call it their home,” he said.
So who is eligible to apply? Applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen or have legal permanent residency
- Be a resident of the state of Idaho for the last five years
- Be a first-time home buyer
- Worked full-time in Caldwell, or the greater Caldwell area for the last five years
- Be pre-approved by a lending institution for a $170,000 mortgage
- Have a net annual household income of less than $87,500
Eligible applicants must undergo a four-step process, beginning with the initial one-page online application to notify the housing authority of their interest in participating in the process and submitting demographic information.
Second, applicants must read and sign a two-pages of acknowledgements showing they understand the conditions of the process. The document must also be notarized.
The acknowledgements page ensures applicants understand that if offered the house, they will have 30 days to close on the house and are required to occupy the house as their primary residence for seven years following its purchase.
Third, applicants must submit a follow-up application including personal information about where they currently reside, employment verification, income and banking information.
Lastly, applicants must respond in writing to four prompts that range between one and two pages each about their connection to the Caldwell community.
Written responses will be reviewed by three life-long Caldwell residents. The housing authority anticipates it will select an applicant for the house in September. Should more than one entrant qualify for the house, a drawing will occur in September at the location.
What is the function of a housing authority, and how is CHA different?
Unlike most housing authorities, the Caldwell Housing Authority does not receive funding from the federal government.
In 2019, the housing authority separated from the federal government, meaning it no longer abides by federal guidelines or receives funds from taxpayer dollars, but rather it uses funds from its operating income.
Dittenber said he began considering separating from the federal government because he felt restricted on the kinds of amenities and community activities he could provide to tenants.
Additionally, one of the main reasons he considered separating from the government was because of its restrictions against housing migrant workers.
The Caldwell Housing Authority campus has a deep history of providing workforce housing to farm working migrants. In 1939, the U.S. Department of Agriculture built its current campus — Farmway Village — located in north Caldwell and west of Interstate 84.
Formerly known as the Idaho Migratory Labor Camp, Farmway Village was one of the few labor camps built by the federal government to provide housing to farmers displaced by the Great Depression. In 1950, the labor camp was turned over to the housing authority.
But before 2019, federal law said that to live in federally funded housing, housing authority tenants had to be U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Since 2015, Dittenber said he had been housing nearly 400 migrant workers each year through the H2-A visa — a program that allows U.S. employers to bring foreigners to work to fill seasonal agricultural jobs.
“I’ve had a farmer sit in my office and literally cry and tell me, ‘I left a million dollars in crops in the field last year because I had no workers,’” he said. “And then you balance that against a federal bureaucrat who’s never seen my property or been here. I was not kicking them out.”
Dittenber said that each year farmers have a constant need for workforce housing, and that while the law changed to include U.S. citizens and “legally admitted individuals,” he said. separating from the federal government was the best option to become more involved in community development.
“Once you accept federal dollars, you have to follow federal program rules and federal program guidelines,” he said. “So when the housing authority separated from the federal government, we were given that financial autonomy to reach out into areas that otherwise haven’t been reached.”
Now separated from the federal government, Dittenber said he has focused on community development activities such as resurfacing the bridges in downtown Caldwell, helping the College of Idaho’s develop its baseball field and even relocating a former labor camp building to turn it into an interpretive center for Idahoans to understand the role that migrant workers had and continue to have in Canyon County.
While the housing authority is no longer federally governed, it still provides low rent to nearly 1,500 tenants in 243 units of housing at its Farmway Village campus.
“We get our authority under Idaho Code, so we’re not a nonprofit, and we’re not just some organization that starts up and stops,” Dittenber said. “We have our authority under the law like the city government or fire district. We’re considered a municipal corporation. The law is made to give housing authorities the opportunity to respond to local needs.”
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