Solving the housing crisis in Boise starts with research at Boise State’s Idaho Policy Institute

empty lot, lusk district
Photo by Claire Keener

Boise State plays a key role in helping the Treasure Valley solve the current housing crisis.

With an ever-rising demand for affordable housing, what Boise does now will lay a foundation for life in the Treasure Valley in the years to come. At the heart of that process is a collaboration with Boise State and the Idaho Policy Institute.

“We founded the Institute in 2016, and the whole premise is to be an objective research resource for Idaho’s decision-makers,” Dr. Vanessa Fry said. 

Fry is the interim director and co-founder of the Idaho Policy Institute and is also an associate research faculty member in the School of Public Service at Boise State.

Research is key to ensuring that housing solutions are tailored to support specific groups who are in need, according to Fry. Among those groups are university students and staff who are affected by the housing shortage 

“From some of the research we’re conducting now, we’re seeing that industry is having a hard time attracting and retaining talent because they’re having a hard time finding housing for them,” Fry said.

Employers can offer part of the solution by creating housing support plans for employees while they look for somewhere to live.

“On the staff and faculty side of things, we’re looking at what kind of opportunities the university has with properties right now, to provide some sort of bridge support or housing for new talent coming to the area,” Fry said.

Although building more housing is important, there are a variety of additional solutions that can help Boise and the surrounding areas achieve sustainable growth.

According to Fry, The City of Boise and the university own adjacent properties in some areas, which suggests an opportunity to collaborate with housing projects in the future.

Another important demographic to keep in mind is essential workers. They need housing they can afford close to where they work, or else necessary industries like health care and home maintenance will struggle, according to Katie McInally.

empty lot, lusk district
[Image of an empty lot in the Lusk District where new housing project has been proposed]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

McInally is a senior urban studies and community development student, and is also in her first year as a part of the accelerated Master of Public Administration program.

“Think about the people who literally cannot work remotely,” McInally said. “They’re your electricians and your plumbers and people that we rely on heavily to function as a society, and if we stop taking care of their housing needs, we won’t have them.”

One way to protect essential workers is to preserve existing affordable housing and keep people in their current homes.

“The most important thing is to empower people to stay in the homes that they have,” McInally said. “A lot of people are getting pushed out because of rising rents.”

Idaho has about a 30% renter population, and supporting that population is vital, according to McInally.

“We need to identify and support landlords who are providing affordable housing rentals already,” McInally said.

One creative way to provide more renting options is to make accessory dwelling units more popular among homeowners, according to Nathaniel Campbell, a senior urban studies and community development major at Boise State.

An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a small separate addition to property that a homeowner can rent out. However, permits for these are expensive, and to make ADUs rentable, many require a separate power supply which can cost more than $10,000 to install, according to Campbell.

Boise can also use creative zoning to help with the growing population.

“Density is something that’s really important,” McInally said, “and zoning properly allows for density. So, if we have an area of town that’s already zoned as purely commercial that negates any possibility of putting housing in that area. So, we can look at the zoning code to make sure that land use is at maximum efficiency.”

Boise’s collaboration with developers is a matter of incentivizing the private sector to want to work with the city and make the kinds of units most needed, according to Fry.

“There’s not one policy that is gonna fix everything,” McInally said. “It’s really a collaboration of all the folks that are working to solve the problem coming together, and every little policy is going to make a difference.”

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