Is there a housing crisis in Sandpoint?


By Rhonda Armburst

Reader Contributor

The real estate market is heating up, and prices are beginning to soar. Last year had a more robust real estate market than we have seen in 10 years. Since the recession, many homeowners are keeping their homes instead of selling because they owe more than the property is worth. In many instances, not enough equity has been gained to justify selling. This has resulted in a serious shortage of properties available to purchase in communities across the nation including Sandpoint. When supply is too low to keep up with demand, prices go up.

Rising prices mean rising rents. Housing and Urban Development reports the average gross rents in Sandpoint range from $541 for a studio to $1,202 for a four-bedroom. Rental costs are lower than buying with the average sales price of a three-bedroom Bonner County property in 2016 at $281,298. But 50 percent of renters are hampered by housing costs taking up a large chunk of their income, while 34 percent of homeowners are cost burdened.

The most at-risk populations caused by the lack of affordable housing in Sandpoint are baby boomers seeking retirement, the homeless and those in need of low-income housing and Millennials wanting to live in the area. Women are especially vulnerable. On any given day, approximately 175 victims of domestic violence/sexual assault seek refuge in a shelter somewhere in Idaho.

The Gospel Mission in Ponderay provides shelter for men, but there is nowhere to send homeless women, according to Rich Crettol, president of the Sandpoint Community Resource Center. Bonner Homeless Transitions shelters typically have waiting lists. Low income apartments have long waiting lists.

A Washington Post article stated that one-third of Millennials (age 18 to 34) live with their parents. A Fannie Mae Survey showed that 93 percent of those in this age group still want to buy a house, but only 9 percent plan to do this within a year. Most are hoping to buy within three to five years.

Young people today make relatively less money than previous generations, given their education levels, and are encumbered by student loans, thus making it difficult to save. Millennials are putting off buying primarily due to financial reasons.

The largest age group in our region are those that are 55 to 70. They are termed “baby boomers,” as they are among the 76 million individuals born between 1946 and 1964. Today baby boomers are moving into retirement. Many want to downsize into a home they can afford with their retirement income. With rising prices, it can be a challenge for them to stay in Sandpoint.

Local entities are addressing the lack of affordable housing. The Sandpoint Community Resource Center has established a housing committee. Idaho Housing and Finance Association held a caucus in February to discuss homeless solutions. The city of Sandpoint has reduced hook-up fees to encourage construction.

Bonner Community Housing Agency is a local non-profit established in 2007. Its mission is to provide affordable homes while being the central hub of information on housing issues in Bonner and Boundary Counties.

The Finally HOME program utilized by BCHA helps with down payment and closing costs. Idaho Housing and Finance Association administers the program that eases a major obstacle to home ownership. So far, BCHA has built and sold four homes, plus bought then rehabilitated six homes that were sold or are available for sale. Currently, they are seeking four more houses to purchase and sell.

To qualify for the program, you must have income less than 80 percent of the county’s median income level per family size and obtain a first loan. Depending on where the buyer falls within the guidelines, IHFA will contribute up to 10 percent of the sales price for closing costs and down payment. This money is a no interest, no payment, silent second, that would be repaid when or if the property is sold or refinanced. All participants in the program are required to complete the informative Finally HOME! course presented by BCHA monthly. The property must be the buyer’s primary residence, and they must contribute $500 toward the purchase.

For further information about the down payment, closing cost assistance Finally HOME program contact Rhonda Armbrust of BCHA at 208-263-5720.

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