Finding Home

Sitting in Rev & Tax Committee. Our Minority Leader, Rep. Wendy Jaquet has waited three years to get permission to arrange today’s speakers on workforce housing. Workforce Housing. That’s the term resort communities use for affordable housing even though in many places its not just people in the service industry who need a place to live, it’s seniors, young families, people who face a health crisis and can not work. I know we face a tough audience in here on this issue, especially if its not clear that people struggle with rents and mortgages far beyond Boise and Ketchum They struggle in Teton County, McCall, Coeur d’Alene, Bear Lake and Stanley.
    The questions from the committee are telling. Our Chair, Rep Lake, asked it it were not more wise to raise wages rather than buying land and building housing so as to create a class system where some people live in special houses or buildings set aside while others live in homes. He makes a great point. I passed him a note to ask if he would support a locally adjusted minimum wage up to say $21.50 an hour so that even those laboring for years in resort communities could have a chance at affording their own home.
    However, if saying we need to raise wages to address the problem is going to be an excuse to kill any efforts as helping set aside land and funding for affordable housing efforts, then we should all come clean.
    In the past two legislative sessions bills to raise Idaho’s minimum wage a dollar or two above the present $5.15 an hour and then to index it so it keeps pace with inflation have been killed pretty much on party line votes. I’m just hazarding a guess that there will be no real legislative effort to bring wages anywhere near the level where someone trying to work in a restaurant in McCall can own a home in town or anywhere near by.
     And Rep. Wood’s point about loss of land for trailer homes and later about how farms and ranches build on-site housing for workers is interesting as well. If only a school or gas station or cafe had an abundance of land, affordable, extra land, they could build a house or two on in downtown Victor, Stanley or McCall. But I think that is the point. Lots of businesses rent and don’t have land to build homes on for their workers. And as Rep. Ruchti from Pocatello pointed out, the whole town benefits from having people live where they work and having people housed rather then homeless or driving fifty miles to work each day. So a whole town or city should help ensure housing is available for those who work there.
    One can’t help but think of the city of McCall which recently mandated that a portion of all new developments include affordable housing. This policy keeps neighborhoods mixed, protects areas from air pollution, commuter traffic and sprawl and protects communities from potential economic instability that comes from having all members of a neighborhood or community belong to one single economic strata or class.
    Real estate developers were none too pleased with McCall’s policy. The Idaho Association of Realtors in fact sued the City Council to stop implementation of this particular ordinance. I suspect that if developers, builders, real estate companies, ski areas and down town merchants do not step up to create proactive plans soon, we will need more mandates. Either that or we can live with homelessness, live with dishwashers driving hours in the early morning dark through a storm, live with streams of traffic as people commute from distant parts of the county to work, live with more people turning down Idaho jobs because they can not find a place to live near by on the wages we offer.
    There are consequences to prosperity that benefits only some but does not pay adequate wages or at least offer adequate help with the necessities to benefit all. Idaho’s growth bumps us up against that problem, finding homes for those who need them most. Like homelessness, it doesn’t seem to go away just because we build one small shelter, make a few arrests or buy a ream of bus passes. There are root causes and eventually we will have to tackle them.

One thought on “Finding Home

  1. Brett Adler - January 22, 2008

    Thanks for covering workforce housing.
    Have you seen CCDC’s report on workforce housing? Pretty good summary of the issues and recommended actions….OK… so I’m a bit biased… I was the chair of the task force 😉

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