By Zach Hagadone
Members of the Sandpoint City Council took in a presentation Sept. 20 on the establishment of a local housing authority, which would leverage a combination of municipal, institutional, state and federal funding sources to assist in the development of residential projects geared toward area workers.
Meghan Conrad, of Boise law firm Elam & Burke P.A., guided councilors through the nuts and bolts of establishing such an authority, explored some of the possible funding sources and administrative structures, as well as highlighted a few examples of similar entities around the state, from the Boise area to McCall and Blaine County to Pocatello. She also discussed some of the hurdles to creating an effective housing authority.
“It is a bit challenging to advance the mission without a significant source of funds to acquire property or be able to contract with property owners in order to administer affordable units in a project,” Conrad said. “And with no history, revenue stream and no assets, financing is likely to be limited in the beginning.”
The creation of a Sandpoint housing authority has been discussed at least since 2019, when the city undertook a housing assessment that looked at availability and found many residents were paying more than 30% of their income on housing — higher than the threshold for what’s considered “affordable.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Shelby Rognstad convened a workforce housing task force in 2019, which ran a survey through the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation.
“The No. 1 response when asked what was the biggest challenge that employers faced when hiring and retaining workforce, housing was No. 1 on the list,” Rognstad said.
Those findings were further underscored by the 2022 report commissioned by the city from Portland, Ore.-based Leland Consulting, which found that the rapid increase in population experienced in recent years had spurred a comparable spike in housing costs, resulting in several recommendations including the creation of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority.
In all the referenced studies, data suggested that while programs existed to assist residents making 80% or below of the area median income — which as of summer 2022 was pegged at about $60,000 — “there really is this gap and also gap of tools to provide housing for workers — especially between 60% to 120% [of AMI],” Conrad said.
“And when we talk about ‘workforce,’ it’s important to stress that these are service industry and manufacturing employees, but it’s also police and fire officers as well as educators — it’s the people that really run and generate our city centers,” she added.
How a local housing authority would be established and function would depend on the goals set forth by the city and the area, or areas, it would seek to serve.
Like an urban renewal agency, a housing agency would be created by state statute. However, the latter would be unable to levy funds as a taxing entity, though could enter into long-term debt without voter approval. While urban renewal agencies can service their debt by using tax increment financing, housing authorities would have to rely on the rental payments and municipal dollars — at least initially — as well as monies from state and federal entities.
Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the councilors that Rognstad included $25,000 in his Fiscal 2024 budget to be put toward strategic initiatives as seed money for a housing authority, intended to support costs associated with its initial establishment.
Beyond that, “What you tend to see happening more and more on a regional basis is some of the regional foundations, employer groups, starting to come in and support some of these organizations in order to kind of kick start the planning and development of housing in the local community,” she added.
Though councilors did not make a decision Sept. 20, Rognstad said the discussion will be ongoing and indicated that a strategy is in place to implement a housing authority in the future.
“I would love to see a joint-powers board that governed a regional housing authority that serviced all of Bonner County or North Idaho,” he said, though added that it would be wiser to focus first on Sandpoint and, “with our success, we could bring other partners along.”
“There’s not only a lot of recognition of this problem in our community but there’s a lot of motivation from our employers to do what they can to be part of the solution,” Rognstad added.
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