Why does shelter matter?

Word on the Street Issue 13, August 2021

In an environment where the cost of living is skyrocketing and few affordable units are vacant, shelter remains a critical first step toward helping our fellow residents off the street as they become displaced. 

Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposed expansion recognizes that the shelter must redefine its model to create a housing first approach while continuing to provide emergency services to those who need it. Within the continuum of care and current restrictions on the availability of affordable housing locally, that means expanding our shelter space and the services provided to catch people as they fall out of housing, low-barrier entry, and an emphasis on getting shelter guests rehoused as soon as possible.

According to the Southwest Idaho chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, Ada County had a total of only 50 vacancies out of 6,664 rental units across the county in the first quarter of 2021, a 0.75% vacancy rate. In neighboring Canyon County, the vacancy rate was 0.39%, with only 13 of 2,600 units available for rent.

The Idaho Department of Labor in February said that home prices in the area had risen on average statewide by 73% across the past 5 years, while wages had risen by just 14%, pricing people out of the market. In July 2021, the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service found that home prices in Ada County had risen 40% since June 2020, averaging at over half a million dollars.

Cities have frequently faced pushback from residents when proposing shelter or affordable housing developments near pre-existing neighborhoods, a phenomenon known as NIMBY, or “Not In My Backyard,” where residents raise concerns over topics such as increased crime and traffic, which are purported to increase in frequency alongside affordable units and social services organizations. But a worsening housing crisis means that cities need to expand services across the board to serve all community members in all neighborhoods.

Treasure Valley’s affordable housing crisis is a situation caused in large part by a lack of affordable housing inventory. But as localities develop rapidly, contributing factors include, but are not limited to, outdated zoning code that prevents the construction of dense housing in certain areas, a lack of meaningful rent control statewide, little to no funding for affordable housing allocated by the state, barriers that prevent tenants from accessing federal COVID-19-related rental assistance, and the state’s failure to issue guidance on a federal eviction moratorium which may have kept certain qualifying tenants housed until July 31.

A version of that moratorium has now been extended until October 3, but those working against evictions in Idaho say the measure lacked teeth to begin with and will now be effective based only on high COVID-19 case and transmission rates. According to recent reports, Idaho has distributed only $20 million, or 10% of the nearly $200 million in federal COVID-19-related rental assistance and utilities funding allocated to the state in seven months.

Until our area reaches a point where affordable housing is accessible to all and an adequate safety net is in place to keep people housed, emergency shelter will continue to be a necessary piece of the puzzle.