Guest Opinion: What Can Be Done About the Housing Crisis? 

Here are some of the things you as an individual, business owner/manager, or corporation can do.

More than 11 million families now spend the majority of their income on rent, and family and young adult homelessness rates are rising in many communities. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average person making minimum wage in Idaho must work over 62 hours to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment, for an average rent of $784—out of reach for many. That doesn’t even include the additional expenses that affect housing affordability, such as utilities, transportation, and distance from work.

But there’s housing assistance, right? Well, three out of every four families in need of housing assistance are turned away due to a lack of funding. Last year, advocates and Congressional champions secured a 10% increase to federal investments in affordable housing, but President Trump’s budget slashes affordable housing by $11 billion–a move that will likely increase homelessness and housing poverty. Although Boise has plenty of housing units for people who qualify for assistance– those earning 80% or less of median income—the Treasure Valley is a whopping 12,000 housing units short of what is needed for “very low income” (earning 50% or less of median income) or “extremely low income” (earning 30% or less of median income).

Many people who actually get assistance in the form of housing vouchers then face landlords who refuse to rent to them. Many of these people are veterans.

Why does housing affordability matter? Sociologist and author of Evicted, Matthew Desmond, says, “the rent eats first,” so families are forced to skimp on groceries, medical care, and other basic needs. When people have safe homes that they can afford, they are better able to find and maintain employment, achieve economic mobility, and stay in good health. Kids have more success in school and life, and seniors have an opportunity to live and grow with independence and dignity. Towns, neighborhoods, and schools benefit from the increased sense of community. Increasing and preserving affordable homes helps people climb the economic ladder, leading to stronger communities and bolstering economic productivity and job creation.

What can you as an individual, business owner/manager, or corporation do?

  1. Talk to your city, county, and state lawmakers and to candidates in this election year. Demand that they support legislation to make it illegal for landlords to reject a veteran's application for housing simply because the veteran would pay his/her rent with a federal voucher. Demand an increase in minimum wage. Demand they fund the Idaho Housing Trust Fund.

  2. Be a YIMBY. That stands for Yes In My Backyard. In other words, welcome and support development, remodeling, zoning changes, etc. that might bring lower income housing to your neighborhood. It won’t reduce the value of your property, but rather will increase it. And your neighborhood will thrive with more diversity. Support common sense approaches that might increase the density of your neighborhood. Studies show this is good for cities. (Remember, Boise is on a monumental growth trend, so we might as well accept density now, or we will end up with sprawl, which contributes to more use of cars, more pollution, more highway maintenance, more law enforcement, and more increases in housing costs).

  3. Get your neighborhood association involved in the issue. It will affect everyone, and associations need to be in communication with the city/county/state and with developers to make contact on behalf of neighborhoods for YIMBY initiatives.

  4. Support groups who are promoting innovative housing solutions, such as land ownership for mobile home residents, small footprint housing, using alternative materials and technologies in homebuilding (such as shipping containers), or increasing density in creative ways.

  5. Join the Boise/Ada County Housing Coalition to advocate and educate about ways to end homelessness. If you or your organization works with low income, housing insecure populations, attend our PUSH Expo on Thursday, May 31.

We must continue to make a bold and sustained commitment to ensure that everyone has safe, accessible and affordable housing. When we invest in affordable homes, we invest in people, our communities, and America as a whole – from increased employment and economic mobility to improved health and better education.

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