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Boise seeks to build housing for the chronically homeless

Roundtable on Housing and Homelessness members Wyatt Schroeder, AnaMarie Guiles, Mayor David Bieter, Gerald Hunter, Deanna Watson, TJ Thomson and Heidi Traylor announced a Housing First program to build housing for the chronically homeless. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Roundtable on Housing and Homelessness members Wyatt Schroeder, AnaMarie Guiles, Mayor David Bieter, Gerald Hunter, Deanna Watson, TJ Thomson and Heidi Traylor announced a Housing First program to build housing for the chronically homeless. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Non-profit housing developers are being asked to come up with ideas to build a housing complex to serve as a home for 25 to 30 chronically homeless people in Boise.

The city of Boise and Idaho Housing and Finance Association issued a request for proposals Feb. 9. The two entities are offering $6.5 million in tax credits for a single-site housing project “uniquely designed to serve and support the target population.”

The city and other members of the Roundtable on Housing and Homelessness jointly announced the Housing First program Feb. 9. Housing First reflects a growing approach nationally to place homeless people in housing without first requiring them to enter into supportive treatment programs.

The roundtable has met for about a year, headed by Mayor David Bieter and the IHFA, with 40 members from the community’s non-profit and corporate sectors. Members include Charitable Assistance to Community’s Homeless or CATCH and several levels of government.

The Housing First RFP offers  developers a low income housing tax credit worth about $5.5 million and up to $1 million from the city of Boise for land acquisition and new construction costs. This could conceivably cover the full cost of building a $5 million-to-$6 million complex, IHFA Executive Director Gerald Hunter said.

A letter of interest to file an RFP must be submitted to IHFA by March 10. The ultimate deadline to submit a proposal is Sept. 2.

Gerald Hunter

Gerald Hunter

The RFP does not spell out how many apartment units must be proposed, but the roundtable seeks to create housing for 40 chronically homeless people using “single-site” housing such as the RFP describes and a “scattered site” project. Hunter believes the “single site” request should result in about 25 to 30 units.

The “scattered site” project will offer the chronically homeless five of the 300 low-income homes the city of Boise owns and five of the 430 low-income homes the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority owns. Authority Executive Director Deanna Watson hopes to build that stock with private apartment owners offering units to the homeless, as is done in partnerships in other cities.

“The idea is to provide rental assistance at a level people need to stabilize their lives,” Watson said.

Bieter said Ada County has about 100 chronically homeless individuals, based on the 2015 Boise City/Ada County  annual point-in-time count of the homeless.

Deanna Watson

Deanna Watson

Building homes for the chronically homeless is more cost-effective than the judicial approach now taken, Bieter said.

“Those 100 people cost us $5.3 million (a year) in medical, criminal justice and interaction with police,” Bieter said.

The city’s Housing First program mirrors the national Pathways to Housing, founded in 1992 under the concept of placing the homeless in housing without conditions and then providing supportive treatment services. Pathways, which uses the terms Housing First and “scattered sites,” has programs in Washington, D.C, Pennsylvania and Vermont and provides training and technical assistance to dozens of agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including Utah.

Boise’s Housing First is not affiliated with Pathways, but Bieter did refer to Utah’s work and mentioned that the practice of finding housing first for the homeless is “evidence based.”

“The best alternative for the homeless is getting someone in a clean, safe place first,” Bieter said. “Then you can go about providing some of the services that go to the root causes of homelessness.”

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.