‘I want to create a neighborhood’

Affordable housing project Culver’s Crossing crosses another threshold

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Members of the Sandpoint City Council voted unanimously July 6 to approve the final development plan and preliminary plat for Culver’s Crossing — a first-of-its-kind affordable housing development for Bonner County, which seeks to provide income-based housing for local wage earners, the elderly and/or disabled.

The decision moves the project one step closer to achieving final approval, after which the first of four phases of construction can commence. Full build-out is expected to occur over a five-year period following final approval.

A proposed site plan for Culver’s Crossing courtesy James A. Sewell & Associates.

“It will take continuing cooperation among all parties to be successful,” said Rob Hart, executive director of the Bonner Community Housing Agency, which has partnered with landowner Nancy Hadley to develop the project.

Culver’s Crossing envisions 49 dwelling units on 47 lots covering a parcel of about 5.7 acres on the west side of North Boyer Avenue. The land is surrounded by residential to the southwest, commercial to the west and north, and the University Place subdivision to the east across Boyer.

The project started working through the process in April, with a public hearing on the preliminary development plan before the Planning and Zoning Commission. After traffic analysis and other filings through April and May, the P&Z Commission again hosted a public hearing on the project in June, drawing overwhelmingly positive testimony, and commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the City Council approve the final development plan and preliminary plat with conditions.

That led to the July 6 public hearing before the City Council. 

The effort comes in the form of a partnership between Hadley and BCHA. The former owns the land and the latter administers the affordability program through which about 60% of the homes will be sold. The remaining 40% of the units would be sold by Hadley at or near market value. In total, the project includes a mix of single-family and townhomes, along with a three-unit multi-family structure. 

For the housing in the BCHA program, prices would be set for buyers who make between 60% and 120% of the median household income, which Hart identified as about $72,000 for a family of four. 

However, “in our experience, more than half of the local residents make less than the median income,” he said, adding that the goal is to ensure buyers don’t spend more than 30% of their annual income on housing.

Using a “reverse-engineered” pricing structure, Hart said that an “affordable” home price for a family of four making the median household income and able to put 20% down would end up with a mortgage of about $1,800 per month on a home valued in the $350,000 range — about half the market rate.

“These figures change every year and we know that most people don’t have a 20% down payment,” Hart said, though added that if two people in a household make between $15 and $20 an hour, and have little or no debt, “You could probably buy a home in Culver’s Crossing.”

Under the unique program, homeowners would be encouraged to stay put for at least four years. Though able to sell their homes whenever they choose, Culver’s Crossing residents would be contractually obligated to give Hadley first right of refusal to buy back the home for its original sale price, plus consumer price index in the first two years. In the third and fourth years, owners could sell back to Hadley for base price plus twice the CPI. At the end of the fourth year, Culver’s Crossing owners “can do whatever they want, but we’ve held the period of affordability for four years,” Hart said.

“If you are wealthy or a speculator or an investor, don’t contact us,” he added, later noting that prospective Culver’s Crossing buyers are capped at an annual income of $125,000, must be employed locally — defined as “Priest River to Hope and Athol to Bonners” — and live in the home as their primary residence.

“We can’t prevent somebody going on vacation and renting out the home while they’re on vacation, but we can prevent it from becoming an Airbnb community,” Hart said.

Community response to the Culver’s Crossing complex has been so robust, Hart told the City Council that applicants have been entered into a lottery for the opportunity to select one of the homes in Phase 1 to purchase. Before that, though, they have to go through a rigorous screening process to ensure they qualify under the terms of the program. 

Meanwhile, the project is “already facing the headwinds of inflation rates double what we’ve seen in recent years,” Hart said, underscoring that time is of the essence in gaining final approval before costs increase further and therefore drive up prices.

Hadley also emphasized the long-term importance of the development, noting that “we’ve been working on this for a year. We have put a lot of time and energy [into it] and it seems like I’ve written a lot of checks for this.”

“When I acquired this property about 20 years ago, I tried to figure out how to develop it without going broke — that’s the first rule — and so that local people could afford a home in Sandpoint,” she added, noting that the people she’d specifically like to serve are young families, people 55 and older, and those employed in middle-income sectors like teaching and nursing.

To that end, the homeowner’s association fees would ideally be kept to the $100-$150 range.

“If we’re trying to provide affordable housing where the house payment is $1,500-$1,800 a year, anything more you add to that is going to be harder and harder,” Hadley said.

With the council’s greenlight, one of the next steps is securing approval in Boise of the public infrastructure permit — a process that could take up to six weeks, according to City Planner Amy Tweeten.  

In the meantime, council members applauded the project for its vision in addressing a critical need.

Councilor Deb Ruehle thanked Hadley and Hart for putting some definition to the “mystical word of ‘affordable housing,’” and Councilor Andy Groat said, “I hope that there are other potential developers who are observing,” and will embark on something similar.

“I am rooted to this community and I’m doing it because it feels like the right thing to do,” said Hadley, a second-generation local. “I want to create a neighborhood out there.”

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