Editor's note: This editorial has been updated to clarify the status of the housing trust fund's governing board.
Idaho’s tax revenue has continued pile in much faster than the state is spending it. It’s welcome news because it means lawmakers have lots of options: further tax relief and funding programs that continue to be underfunded, like the state’s public education system.
With all that money flowing around, it should be an easy matter to fund a small but potentially highly impactful program that has lain dormant since it was created some 30 years ago.
As Kelcie Moseley-Morris of the Idaho Capital Sun explained last month, Idaho is one of only a handful of states in the nation with a state housing trust fund but no money in it. A housing trust fund is money that will be matched with federal funds, which can then be used by the state to run affordable housing programs. As Moseley-Morris reported, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Idaho is short some 22,200 affordable housing units.
Idaho first established its housing trust fund back in 1992. It has a governing board authorized by statute. The only problem: the Legislature has never appropriated a dime for it.
There’s never been a more pressing time to put some money in that account.
Some resort communities in eastern Idaho, because of unusual conditions there, should serve as an ample warning of how a lack of affordable housing can act as a cramp on business. If you talk to businesses in Stanley about their biggest challenges, finding somewhere for their workers to live is always near the top of the list. The same is true in communities surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It’s routine to hear of workers in these areas living for extended periods in tents or trucks.
In resort communities, this problem is driven by a limited stock of buildable land and astronomically high real estate prices. But that second part of the problem is fast becoming all of Idaho’s problem. As demand for housing continues to outstrip supply, and as more and more people move to Idaho, real estate prices are soaring and longtime residents are getting priced out of the housing options they’ve relied upon their whole lives.
The long-term solution is building lots and lots of affordable housing, and the housing trust fund could be a key component of that solution.
A one-time appropriation of $3 million would put solid ground under Idaho’s housing trust fund, and it would be relatively easy to find a small stream of revenue to keep it going in the future — many states devote a portion of mortgage recording fees to the trust. The money would be matched with federal funds, and that would allow Idaho to assist low-income renters by building out more affordable housing units.
It would be a boon for businesses that need workers, and for low-income workers who need somewhere to live, and it would require only 0.2% of the surplus Idaho currently has on the books.