Growing pains: Boise struggles to accommodate expanding student population with housing crisis on the rise

Illustration by Sydney Smith

College students in Boise aren’t just worrying about getting good grades and preparing for their future careers. Students at Boise State, as well as young people across the nation, are facing a substantial housing crisis that may be financially detrimental or even leave them unhoused. 

In a Housing Needs Analysis, the City of Boise tells residents of the Treasure Valley that “The city of Boise is facing an unprecedented housing crisis. Rapidly rising rents and appreciating home values have led to renewed conversations among city leadership on the right actions to take to address these issues…”

This crisis isn’t limited to off-campus housing. Boise State has recently been unable to meet the needs of students who need to live in on-campus housing, particularly first-year students. Having sufficient housing available on campus is critical for a variety of students. 

Out-of-state students come to Boise and might end up sleeping in their cars because they have no place to live. If in-state students are not able to get housing, they’re forced to live at home with their parents and might have to commute from as far as Caldwell or Emmett every day for class. 

This housing crisis, on Boise State’s campus as well as in Boise as a whole, is occurring for several reasons, namely the lack of construction in Idaho – which has been perpetuated by COVID-19 –  and the influx of college students and other adults who have relocated to Idaho. 

As discussed by Construct Connect, the 2008 recession decimated the construction industry, and many workers who left the industry after the stock market crash never returned. Lynda Tieck, Executive Director of Housing & Residence Life at Boise State, discussed how COVID-19 furthered this issue. 

“For a number of years, there was no building that was happening in the Boise area. The state wasn’t building anything, it was hard to get permits,” said Tieck. “With COVID there was especially a lack of construction. Now it’s incredibly expensive to build anything, so many people can’t afford the cost of housing in a post-pandemic world.” 

Due to the lack of construction in and around the Boise area, the prices of existing properties have increased significantly. Nicki Hellenkamp, Housing Advisor to the Mayor, discussed how fewer people can now afford to be homeowners. 

“There are far fewer people who can get into home ownership, so renters are now going to be scrambling for shrinking inventory,” said Hellenkamp. “People who would have been able to save up enough, move into home ownership and free up a rental unit are now still in rental housing, meaning now you have increased competition.”

Because the competition for rental housing has increased significantly, many college students do not have off-campus housing available to them. In a situation such as Boise’s where housing is in high demand and the supply is incredibly limited, college students depend on the availability of on-campus housing. 

Unfortunately, as the student body has steadily increased over recent years, Boise State has not been able to keep up and ensure that housing is available for all students, a problem that Tieck has witnessed many students encounter. 

“We’ve had a number of situations where I get word that a student is living in their car because they can’t find a place to live,” said Tieck. “They really don’t know how to navigate it. It’s happened too many times, I hear about someone who’s couch-surfing because they can’t figure out how to secure housing or they have barriers like not having a guarantor for their lease. If they can’t get an apartment on campus, they have nowhere to go.”

In an effort to counter this issue, Boise State is currently building a new residence hall. The cost will be comparable to Honors College and Sawtooth Hall, which will likely free up space in the more affordable housing options like Chaffee and Towers. 

The university also recommends that students use Boise State’s off-campus housing marketplace, which includes listings for off-campus housing, sublets and roommates. Listings on the marketplace are vetted and background checked by BSU to ensure students won’t be scammed and the companies are legitimate.

The City of Boise is also working to alleviate the housing crisis with a zoning code update that will allow for more homes to be built in a way that is denser and more walkable. Hellenkamp discussed the benefits of the new zoning code policy, mentioning that “One of the goals is to allow more housing production, and as a result have the cost of housing go down.”

Even after these changes from Boise State University and The City of Boise, college students in the area will likely continue to struggle to find housing. On-campus housing is more necessary than ever to ensure that Boise State students can stay in the city and at the college they love. 

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