By Kelsie Moseley-Morris
Idaho Capital Sun
Across Idaho, residents have watched helplessly as people and investors flush with cash from other states have swooped up property sight unseen for many thousands of dollars more than the asking price, driving up home prices and pricing others out of the area.
Rob Hart, executive director of the Bonner Community Housing Agency, wanted to do something about it.
Using a six-acre parcel of land in the northern end of town owned by Sandpoint native Nancy Hadley, the city will soon have a development with homes built based on income — but not official “affordable housing” — homes that are only open to local residents who will use it as their primary residence. There will be two units that will be funded by federal HOME loans through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and therefore follow federal guidelines for affordable housing, but the rest of the development will not fall under that designation.
Reverse engineering a solution for affordable housing in Sandpoint
The development will be called Culver’s Crossing and is slated to include 49 units of housing, including single-family homes and townhomes. Rather than building the homes and then marketing them, Hart said the home is built based on income and eligibility. A prospective buyer who meets the qualifications as a local resident would state their yearly income and be matched with a home design that would be built at an affordable cost to that person.
It’s a model Hart used during his 40 years in the private sector as a developer in various states, including Idaho and California.
“We reverse engineer homes so they’re affordable to locals,” Hart said. “… What it does is keeps investors out of the equation.”
Rather than an affordable housing development, which typically relies on many local and federal resources that may or may not work out, this is an investment using Hadley’s land that will benefit the community, Hart said. She is not donating the land, just putting her own terms on how it can be used.
“She said, ‘I want these homes available only to people who have (lived in Bonner or Boundary county) for at least two years, have a good job that serves the community, and are a citizen in good standing,’” Hart said of Hadley. The home’s deed also precludes its sale for at least the first two years of ownership.
The homes range in scope and size to be suitable for incomes between 70% and 120% of the area median income, which is $64,500 per year. The payments for the mortgage would be matched to what would be 30% or less of the buyer’s monthly income. The choices include:
Single-family homes on minimum 6,000-square-foot lots. There are five of these homes for locals making up to 120% of the area median income.
Twin homes that share minimum 7,000-square-foot lots. The homes have independent exterior walls and a townhouse form of ownership. There are 12 homes in six pairs for locals making up to 80% of area median income.
Big houses that accommodate three to four townhouses but appear as a single large home. Each unit has independent exterior walls and a townhouse form of ownership. There are 26 units available for eight big homes for locals making up to 70% of area median income.
HOME Program units — two units funded by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and adhering to U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines for affordable housing. Will be priced to be affordable to locals making less than 70% of area median income.
A historic site that combines a big house with three units and a carriage house with one unit over four garages. The home will be designed in the style of an original north Sandpoint estate, priced for locals making up to 100% of area median income.
The most popular job in Sandpoint, Hart said, is working at the Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the ski resort about 11 miles from town. But many of the jobs at the resort don’t pay well, Hart said.
“Those people who work there are people who, in the past, have spent the winter sleeping in their cars because they can’t find housing,” Hart said. “There is no rental housing (in the area). I actually went on Craigslist a few years ago just for fun, and it said, ‘Maybe you should look in a different community.’”
A Craigslist search on Wednesday afternoon within 10 miles of Sandpoint’s main zip code showed three rental listings — the cheapest of which was a 400-square-foot converted garage for $1,000 per month.
“The whole supply and demand thing is how America works, and that’s fine, we don’t want to get in the way of that,” Hart said. “But we can put our finger into that spiral for the benefit of locals and create a little bit of housing that operates outside of traditional housing, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
‘It’s hard to really even quantify what the real impact is’
Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad said the city has seen massive growth in the past four years, and the volume of building permits has increased by nearly 40% this year. Rognstad said Hart’s approach is brilliant and will promote a healthy community. With the range of incomes and associated homes, the neighborhood will attract people of different backgrounds and family sizes.
“That’s just been shown historically to be really positive for building a vibrant community,” he said.
The city is working with Hart and Hadley to get the project underway as quickly as possible. Hart said the original timeline was to start building the homes in 2023, but if the labor resources come together before winter hits, Hart said construction could begin as early as next year. Once the units open for sale, Hart expects they will immediately sell out.
Rognstad said he hopes it will help with local business growth, because what he’s been told repeatedly over the past three years is that potential new hires can’t find housing and turn down the job or leave their jobs for other areas because they can’t find housing. Others living in rented homes have had the home sold by the landlord and been unable to find another rental in the area.
“It’s hard to really even quantify what the real impact is,” Rognstad said. “… Businesses have just sort of conceded growth isn’t really possible in this kind of environment.”
Hart and Rognstad said they hope other landowners or developers who might be interested in using their land for this same purpose will reach out. Rognstad is also hoping the state government will partner with Sandpoint city officials to support more developments like these. Rognstad has spoken with Idaho Gov. Brad Little about a workforce housing task force he is assembling that will meet in the coming months. The task force will include many business leaders in the community around the housing industry and development.
“It’s really centered around employers, because we really want to have a clear understanding of what the need is from the employer’s perspective and engage them to be part of the solution,” Rognstad said. “I really feel our employers have the most to gain and the most to lose through this whole workforce housing issue. If we can’t house our workforce, then it doesn’t bode well for any business here locally.”
This story was produced by the Idaho Capital Sun, an independent, nonprofit online news organization delivering in-depth coverage from veteran Idaho reporters on state government and policy. It has been edited for length, with the full version online at idahocapitalsun.com and sandpointreader.com. The Idaho Capitol Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit funded by tax-free donations in 22 states. Learn more and follow daily updates at idahocapitalsun.com and statesnewsroom.com.
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