This editorial was published by the Post Register of Idaho Falls.
Idaho’s tax revenues continue to accumulate much faster than the state spends them. This is welcome news because it offers legislators many options: further tax breaks and funding programs that are still underfunded, such as the state’s public education system.
With all the money flowing around, it should be easy to fund a small but potentially very powerful program that has been dormant since its inception some 30 years ago.
As Kelcie Moseley-Morris of Idaho Capital Sun explained last month, Idaho is one of the few states in the country with a state trust fund for real estate, but no money. A housing trust fund is money that is matched against federal funds that can then be used by the state to run affordable housing programs. As reported by Moseley-Morris, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Idaho is short of around 22,200 affordable housing.
Idaho first established its trust fund in 1992. He has a board of directors. The only problem: the legislature has never appropriated a cent for it.
There has never been a more urgent time to put money in this account.
Some resort communities in eastern Idaho should serve as a full warning about how a lack of affordable housing can hamper business because of the unusual conditions there. When you talk to Stanley companies about their biggest challenges, housing is always at the top of their list for their employees. The same goes for communities around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It is commonplace to hear of workers in these areas who live in tents or trucks for long periods of time.
In resort communities, this problem is driven by a limited amount of building land and astronomically high property prices. But that second part of the problem is quickly becoming Idaho’s problem. As the demand for housing continues to outpace supply and more people move to Idaho, property prices rise and long-term residents are losing sight of the housing options they have relied on for their entire lives.
The long term solution is to build lots and lots of affordable homes and the trust fund could be an important part of that solution.
A one-time grant of $ 3 million would put the Idaho Real Estate Trust Fund on a solid footing, and it would be relatively easy to find a small source of income to keep it going in the future – many states use a portion of the mortgage fees for the trust. The money would be matched against federal funds, and this would allow Idaho to support low-income tenants by building cheaper housing units.
It would be a boon to businesses in need of workers and low-income workers in need of housing, and it would only require 0.2 percent of the surplus Idaho currently has on the books.