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[Photo: Pioneer Square Apartments]
Pioneer Square Apartments

BOISE - Most folks will tell you that 13 is an unlucky number. But residents of the Pioneer Square Apartments in downtown Boise might want to differ. That's because they live in the 13th affordable housing complex in Idaho acquired and rehabilitated by Northwest Real Estate Capital, a nonprofit housing development and management company. And, as a result, they don't have to worry about rents going through the roof or having to look for another place to live.

Okay, it's not exactly headline news like, for example, another win by the Boise State Bronco football team. But it is important, very important.

The reason is simple. These days Boise, a city of just over 200,000 and the capital of Idaho, is a popular place to be. No wonder. In 2010 and again in 2011, CNN Money rated Boise as among the top ten places to retire. And folks appear to have gotten the word. U.S. News and World Report, for example, reports that a Brookings Institution analysis of U.S. Census data found that the Boise-Nampa metro area has among the five most popular destinations for retirees 55 and older. Since 2000, in fact, the area's experienced a "46 percent uptick" in residents 65 and older and a 92 percent increase in residents 55 to 64.

Good news, right? But there's some bad news. All of those new folks in town need some place to live. And if housing development doesn't keep pace with demand, housing prices rise, too fast, usually, for individuals and families whose incomes are fixed or haven't kept up with the price rise.

Recently, the Mayor of Boise and other officials enthusiastically welcome the grand opening of the 12th and River Apartments in downtown. Funded in part by HUD HOME funds, the $12 million complex provides 33 units of affordable housing for the low-income elderly. "We would love to be a part of many more projects like this," the Mayor said.

He is probably just as enthusiastic about the $5.5 million of work funded by the equity from low income housing tax credits awarded by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association done by Northwest Real Estate Capital at the eight buildings that comprise Pioneer Square. Enthusiastic about the new roofs, new siding, new windows and sliding doors. Enthusiastic about the new plumbing, the new kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures, the new insulation and the new floors. And enthusiastic, too, about its Stepping Stone Computer Learning Center, the seventh completed by Northwest Real Estate's and a part of HUD's nationwide Neighborhood Networks program. Simply put, it's taken buildings already 34 years old and added another 30 years to its usable life span.

But that may not be what they're most enthusiastic about. Since its opening, Pioneer Square has received a subsidy from HUD that kept rents affordable. That subsidy was set to expire in 2011. Given Boise's booming real estate market, Pioneer Square's owners could have decided to "go to market" and start renting Pioneer Square units for whatever folks would pay.

Northwest Real Estate Capital resisted the temptation, deciding to extend HUD rent subsidies another 20 years. The result? 43 families that might have been pushed out by rising rent prices instead have an affordable, well-maintained place to call home for another 20 years. That's something to be enthusiastic about.

Boise's not unique. Close your eyes and push a pin anywhere on a map of the United States. Wherever it sticks will probably be a community where the demand for affordable housing far outpaces the supply. It's what explains the very long waiting lists for public housing or Housing Choice Vouchers in virtually every city of any size in the country. It's what explains the rather astonishing fact that 7 million American households pay more than half their income for housing

And it's what explains HUD's commitment not just to expanding the supply of affordable housing, but also on preserving the affordable housing inventory we already have. Fortunately, among all its other virtues, Boise offers vibrant examples of the how's and why's of doing that. Not he kind of thing, it seems, Boise wants to leave to chance.


Content Archived: March 25, 2014

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