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Affordable housing situation is ‘dire’ for Idahoans and state’s workforce, advocates say

Multifamily housing under construction in Twin Falls. Photo by Liz Patterson Harbauer

Housing advocates across Idaho say the need for housing is dire, with many individuals living in cars and being evicted or priced out of their homes on a daily basis, and they are calling on Idaho’s Congressional delegation to take action at the federal level to increase affordable housing support.

The Idaho Asset Building Network held a press conference on Thursday morning (Aug. 25) to highlight its efforts to urge federal and state policymakers to enact long-term housing solutions. Representatives from Saint Alphonsus Health System, the Idaho State Independent Living Council and the Intermountain Fair Housing Council said the issue is affecting Idahoans personally and affecting Idaho’s workforce.

Housing issues have plagued the Treasure Valley and North Idaho in particular over the past two years as population growth drove real estate prices and average rents to historic highs. While the market has cooled in recent weeks, advocates say the situation is still extreme for many residents. Idaho has a shortage of over 24,000 affordable and available homes for renters with modest incomes, according to the Idaho Asset Building Network.

Housing insecurity disproportionately affects people with disabilities, advocates say

Rebecca Lemmons, regional director of community health and well-being at Saint Alphonsus, said housing security is closely tied to a person’s overall health, including depression and anxiety and the risk of catching and spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox.

The issue also affects hospital staff in two ways, according to Lemmons. Staff members, including nurses, are short-staffed while trying to help patients, and the potential recruits who could help round out staffing levels are unable to secure housing in the area themselves. Lemmons said between 2020 and 2021, the hospital received 677 requests from patients for help with housing.

“Our staff are spending way more time figuring out how to discharge and where to discharge our patients. It doesn’t feel good to anyone to discharge a patient to a car or a hotel,” Lemmons said.

The hospital is “deeply in need” of nurses and doctors, Lemmons said, and they hear frequently that affordability is an issue for applicants.

“We had an orthopedic surgeon decline to come to Saint Al’s because he couldn’t find affordable housing in the area,” she said. “We’re just seeing challenges all around.”

The Idaho State Independent Living Council helps people with disabilities with necessary services and support, and while Executive Director Mel Leviton said housing has always been a challenge for people with disabilities, the situation today is much worse.

“What’s different about this year is there are more people in dire circumstances, and by dire circumstances I mean we have folks who come to our meetings because they happen to be in the library, because that’s where they spend their day to cool off and they live in their cars,” Leviton said. “Maybe that would happen once or twice in years past, but it’s much more frequent now.”

Zoe Olson, executive director of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, said her organization is fielding 40 to 50 calls for help with threats of eviction on a daily basis, and that it is primarily people with disabilities, people of color and low-income individuals and families. Olson said they have partnered with the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and Jesse Tree to help connect people with emergency rental assistance funding, but they need more staff to assist people with completing applications.

“Housing is health care. Housing is a basic life necessity, regardless of income,” Olson said. “We are in dire straits right now. We need help from our leaders — because we have a (nearly $2 billion) surplus.”

Federal budget for fiscal year 2023 includes billions for housing support

Lemmons said Idaho’s workforce housing funding that lawmakers approved during the 2022 legislative session was a good start, but more should be done in the 2023 session to address the issue.

At the federal level, the Idaho Asset Building Network called on Congress to approve the following requests in President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget:

  • The expansion of housing vouchers for an additional 200,000 households
  • $5.1 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund and $5.06 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund
  • $3.6 billion for U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Homeless Assistance Grants program
  • $100 million for legal assistance to prevent evictions
  • $300 million for the competitive tribal housing program, targeted to tribes with the greatest needs

The funding for fiscal year 2023 will need to be approved or rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before Oct. 1.

— Kelcie Moseley-Morris writes for the Idaho Capital Sun. This article was originally published on idahocapitalsun.com. 

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