It’s time to lay a foundation for affordable housing in Idaho

By Rep. Mat Erpelding
Reader Contributor

In 1992, the Idaho House of Representatives passed House Bill 756, creating the Idaho Housing Trust Fund. At the time, a responsible legislature realized that creating pathways to safe and decent housing for hardworking Idahoans and low-income households was in the best interests of all Idahoans. Immediately thereafter, lawmakers stopped being responsible.

In the 25 years since the Idaho Housing Trust Fund was created, zero dollars have been earmarked for the fund.  While the legislation also mandated the formation of an advisory board, no advisory board exists.

Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise).

The Housing Trust Fund was designed to gather private and public funds for the purpose of promoting workforce housing solutions across the state. After creating a tool to advance Idaho’s economic and housing security interests by incentivizing developers to invest in affordable housing, lawmakers chose not to fund it. Under the legislation, local governments and organizations can apply for funds for new construction of affordable housing, refurbishing of existing housing, rent assistance and other uses. Local governments can even apply for money to use as matching funds from federal and private interests – thus getting more bang for the buck in providing workforce housing. While the Housing Trust Fund empowers local government to come up with creative solutions to housing problems, there’s one fundamental problem — there is nothing to apply for. Matching funds are great, so long as there is something to match with.

If actions speak louder than words, then the politicians in charge are making it clear they don’t care about Idaho’s small towns.  Passing legislation without funding is a classic political shell game that is stifling growth in Idaho’s small communities.  It also removes a vital tool community leaders could be using to minimize the economic impacts of housing shortages.

Affordable housing problems exist in virtually every community in Idaho, from Sandpoint and Lewiston, to Pocatello and Driggs.

While the United States is supposed to be the land of opportunity, hardworking Idahoans have severe challenges getting ahead.  The reasons for that are numerous. However, one of the hurdles is housing prices. They continue to increase while wages remain flat. As a result, too many Idahoans are forced to spend every penny of every working week to support their families. There just isn’t money left at the end of the month to afford a home. For many Idahoans, there never will be — especially when rent eats up 30 percent of a paycheck.

Access to affordable and adequate housing affects everyone — from young families to senior citizens living on fixed incomes. Affordable housing and a livable minimum wage are the foundations of economic stability, upward mobility and long-term economic growth. Bottom line: safe, accessible workforce housing creates jobs and stable, robust, local economies. Affordable, healthy homes support economic security and access to opportunity. When the promise of opportunity is realized, everyone wins.

We’d be doing ourselves, our communities and our state a great service by investing in the Idaho Housing Trust Fund in 2018. Being late to take action is better than doing what the politicians in charge have been doing for 25 years — turning their backs on the working people of Idaho.

Representative Mat Erpelding is the Democratic Leader in the Idaho House of Representatives. He is currently serving his third term, representing District 19.

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