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Boise mayor joins federal initiative aimed at reducing homelessness

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Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, center, announced Tuesday that the city of Boise has joined House America, a federal housing initiative. U.S. Department of Human and Health Services Regional Director Ingrid Ulrey, left, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Regional Coordinator Margaret Solle Salazar, right, joined McLean for the announcement. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun)

House America partnership will offer opportunities to collaborate with other states, Lauren McLean says

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean announced the city will join House America, a federal initiative to help address homelessness, as part of a commitment to building 250 units of housing for those experiencing homelessness in Boise by 2026.

McLean announced the partnership at a press conference Tuesday in front of Valor Pointe, a 27-unit apartment complex that opened in 2020 for veterans experiencing homelessness. The community also helps connect veterans with health care and mental health services at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Funding for the development came through a variety of sources, including low-income housing tax credits and funds from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which is administered by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency.

The federal initiative, called House America: An All-Hands-on-Deck Effort to Address the Nation’s Homelessness Crisis, is led by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Mayors, city and county leaders, tribal leaders and governors were invited to join the effort, and more than 90 officials across the country have signed on so far, including Boise’s mayor. McLean said the partnership will open opportunities to problem solve with leadership from other states and exchange ideas, along with access to peer support and technical assistance for various issues.

House America will use funding from the American Rescue Plan as well as federal, state, and local resources to re-house at least 100,000 households experiencing homelessness and add at least 20,000 new units of affordable housing nationwide by the end of 2022. Within those national goals, communities set and achieve their own local re-housing and unit creation goals.

According to a housing needs study conducted by the city in 2021, about 2,770 units of housing will be needed in Boise every year for the next 10 years to meet demand for housing based on current population and growth trends, and 77% of that demand should be for housing affordable to those earning 80% or less of the area median income. Over the past three years, housing in Boise fell short of demand by 4,146 units.

Preventing homelessness in Boise leads to better health outcomes

Boise City Council Chairwoman Elaine Clegg and council members Holli Woodings and Lisa Sanchez also attended the announcement, and McLean said they all support the idea that housing is part of health. Joining the partnership will help further the city’s goals of creating more communities like Valor Pointe and New Path Community Housing, a Boise apartment community with 40 units for people experiencing homelessness.

“In the first two years at New Path, we saw a reduction of service needs of 60%,” McLean said. “That equated to $2.5 million in savings to the residents of Boise, and most importantly, we saw better health outcomes and housing outcomes in those residents.”

Margaret Solle Salazar, regional administrator for Housing and Urban Development, spoke at the press conference and said health and housing are deeply intertwined, a fact that was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we all worked to stay home and stay safe, it became viscerally clear how important a safe and stable place to call home was to supporting our health,” Solle Salazar said. “The stress of housing instability contributes to ongoing health conditions, and it’s impossible to focus on health and healing when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep at night.”

Lana Graybeal, a communications manager with the city, said Boise is on track to have 250 new units of housing for people experiencing homelessness by 2026, and it has a separate goal of 500 more units of housing made available through existing properties in partnership with owners and developers. Boise City Council has dedicated $10 million of general funds to these developments, separate from $34 million the city approved on May 24 for affordable housing developments. The city will rely on support from the Housing and Urban Development agency to help meet those goals. According to the 2021 housing study, the estimated cost to develop one unit of housing is $230,000.

Clegg, who was part of a study regarding the costs of developing this type of housing, said the $10 million in addition to American Rescue Plan funds and Housing and Urban Development dollars should be sufficient to meet their goals.

“We think it will be enough, but time will tell,” Clegg said. “So we will just do the best we can. And thankfully, with this great partnership, we’ll be able to use best practices from all over the country.”