HUD’s Carson: Innovation, partnerships key to affordable housing

The importance of innovation and partnerships was the message U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson brought with him to Idaho.

“We’re encouraging and welcoming innovative housing in our neighborhoods,” Secretary Carson said during a stop in the Boise area on Aug. 12.

Secretary Carson joined U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Congressman Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), Idaho Housing and Finance Association President Gerald Hunter, and other housing leaders to discuss challenges and solutions to affordable housing in Idaho.

“Innovation in America is not dead by any stretch of the imagination nor is entrepreneurship and all we have to do is make sure that we don’t bog people down with so many barriers … that we can’t use the technology,” Secretary Carson said.

Housing affordability is not only a critical issue in Idaho, but all across the country. Nationwide, millions of lower-income Americans are searching for affordable rental homes as the supply struggles to keep up with demand.

While in Idaho, the HUD secretary toured the indieDwell factory, which was highlighted at the 2019 Innovative Housing Showcase in Washington D.C., in June. During the tour, Secretary Carson learned how the Caldwell company turns old shipping containers into affordable housing units. The process, which takes about two weeks to complete, garnered a high- five from Secretary Carson’s wife, Candy.

Affordable housing relies on partnerships, Carson says

“The reason that housing is that expensive is supply and demand. So if we can increase the supply with homes like this, demand goes down and the prices stabilize,” Secretary Carson said.

“The operational costs of one of these units is significantly lower for your standard construction. … The cost of operating, utilities and everything else, as well as the safety from the environmental perspective, low maintenance. This is an incredible effort to try and reduce the cost of homeownership,” Sen. Crapo said.

The group toured the 12th and River Senior Apartments, which were completed near Downtown Boise in 2012 as part of the city of Boise’s Pioneer Pathway revitalization initiative. The complex’s location provides easy walking and biking access to the Boise River, the heart of Downtown, medical services, and other amenities. The project utilized a combination of funds from public and private partners. It’s this type of collaboration that Sen. Crapo and Secretary Carson believe need to happen to help address the housing affordability crisis.

“We must throw out the established norms, expand our public-private partnerships, and create more incentives for developers and others to build more affordable housing,” Sen. Crapo said in a news release.

“With cities like Boise leading the way, we’re seeing partnerships form in communities across the country that help preserve existing housing stock, but also increase the production of new homes,” Secretary Carson added.

In the past few years a number of affordable housing developments have been built or are under construction in Idaho thanks to public-private partnerships including, Adare Manor Bonneville Hotel, New Path Community Housing, and Valor Pointe.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to building affordable housing is funding. During the 2019 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) allocation process, IHFA received 20 applications from developers hoping to build affordable housing, but was only able to fund eight of those projects. The 2020 LIHTC allocation process saw 21 applications asking for more than double the amount of tax credit available.

“Housing affordability is a real challenge,” IHFA’s Hunter said.

Crapo outlines what Congress is doing to help

Sen. Crapo, who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, says Congress is in the process of trying to provide additional resources to build affordable housing in America.

“We are right now working in Congress, in the Banking Committee, to reform our housing finance laws.  And in doing so, one of the key elements in that is to dramatically increase the commitment of resources through our federal housing trust fund. In fact, I’m even proposing that we create an additional fund,” Sen. Crapo said.

Secretary Carson said the challenges that remain ahead are not going to be easy, but added nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

“There’s really nothing that can stop us from being successful as long as we remain united,” Secretary Carson said.

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