By Zach Hagadone
Idaho remains a fast-growing state, but the rate of population increase is actually declining for at least one Gem State community. In a surprise finding in the U.S. Census Bureau figures released June 13 by the Idaho Department of Labor, the capital city of Boise — Idaho’s largest urban center with more than 236,000 residents — actually lost 1,387 residents from its population during 2021-2022, amounting to a .6% decline.
According to the Department of Labor, “Analysts suspect high housing costs contribute to the loss in Boise population, forcing households with children to seek more affordable housing in nearby communities.”
That’s in contrast to the numerous studies and rankings that for years have put Boise among the hottest relocation destinations for work, education, lifestyle, raising a family and retiring, alike. It is unsurprising that of the top-20 largest communities in Idaho, most are in the southern part of the state, though five are located in North Idaho.
Based purely on the number of residents, Coeur d’Alene ranks seventh in the state for size, with 56,733 residents — an increase of 588, or 1%, from 2021-’22 — Post Falls is ninth, with 44,194, growing by 803 residents, or 3.6% year-over-year; Lewiston is 11th, with 34,856 residents, growing by 394, or 1.1%; Moscow is 14th, with 26,249, adding 308 new residents, or 1.2% growth; and Hayden is 16th, with 16,531, adding 294 residents, or 1.8%.
The fastest-growing city based purely on percentage increase was the small town of Paul, in southeastern Idaho, which grew 19.8% from 2021-’22, adding 285 residents for a total of 1,728.
Closer to home, Dover and Ponderay both made the top 10 — the former growing 9.2%, with 84 new residents contributing to a total of 1,000, and the latter increasing by 9.1%, with a population increase of 133 for a total of 1,601 residents.
Dover ranked sixth among fastest-growing communities, while Ponderay came in seventh.
Finally, when it came to greatest numerical growth, Post Falls came in fifth, Sandpoint ranked eighth — with 9,777 residents, an increase of 617, or 6.7% — and Coeur d’Alene ranked tenth.
The rapid rate of growth in North Idaho, and Sandpoint in particular, comes as no surprise to longtime residents of the area, particularly after a widely reported study commissioned by the city of Sandpoint in 2022 from Portland, Ore.-based Leland Consulting showed that to accommodate the anticipated population increase over the next decade, Sandpoint would need to add between 1,500 and 1,900 housing units.
The Leland report also reinforced the popular perception that the growth in new residents had sent real estate prices spiraling ever-upward, rising to a median of $670,000 in Sandpoint and $700,000 in the county in 2022. That’s compared to a range of $300,000-$400,000 from 2018-’20, and a national median home price of just over $400,000 in 2022.
While the Department of Labor noted that high real estate prices had likely resulted in the net population decline experienced by Boise from 2021-’22, the Idaho Statesman reported in March 2023 that a study by the National Association of Realtors showed median prices for existing homes in the city actually declined .2% from February 2022 to $363,000 — far lower than the eye-watering prices in places like Sandpoint.
The Leland report pointed to a likely reason for why Sandpoint has experienced both a population boom and skyrocketing home prices, finding that newcomers brought with them an average income in the $91,000 per year range, amounting to a cumulative $300 million in new wealth coming into the county since 2019 alone. Leland consultants went on to suggest that because those numbers came from 2020, the wealth gap between in-migrants’ incomes and the prevailing income in the county — which is about $51,000 — is “even worse than that.”
Meanwhile, the report made it clear that growth in Bonner County is not occurring by natural increase. There were 3,769 births in the county between 2010 and 2019, but 3,902 deaths — meaning all the growth during that time period can be attributed to in-migration.
The last time Bonner County experienced a population decline was 2012, when it went from 40,782 to 40,347 residents. Since then, the county has grown to a population of 51,414 in 2022.
Boise’s housing affordability issues may have contributed to its net population loss, but based on the new Census figures and data from the Leland report, Sandpoint and Bonner County as a whole seem to be bucking the capital city’s trend, able to support both a population increase and continued sky-high housing prices.
Find all statewide population estimates and other demographic data at lmi.idaho.gov/census.
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