Affordable housing situation ‘catastrophic’ for Idahoans and state’s workforce, advocates say

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Housing advocates across Idaho say the need for housing is dire, with many people living in cars and being evicted or evicted from their homes daily, and they are calling on the Idaho congressional delegation to take measures at the federal level to increase affordable housing assistance.

The Idaho Asset Building Network held a press conference Thursday morning to highlight its efforts to urge federal and state policymakers to adopt long-term housing solutions. Representatives from Saint Alphonsus Health System, the Idaho State Independent Living Council and the Intermountain Fair Housing Council said the issue affects Idahoans personally and affects the Idaho workforce.

Housing issues have plagued Treasure Valley and northern Idaho in particular for the past two years as growing populations have pushed real estate prices and average rents to historic highs. While the market has cooled in recent weeks, advocates say the situation is still dire for many residents. Idaho lacks more than 24,000 affordable, available housing units for low-income renters, according to the Idaho Asset Building Network.

Housing insecurity disproportionately affects people with disabilities, advocates say

Rebecca Lemmons, regional director of community health and wellbeing at Saint Alphonsus, said housing security is closely linked to a person’s overall health, including depression and anxiety and the risk of catch and spread communicable diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox.

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The problem also affects hospital staff in two ways, according to Lemmons. Staff members, including nurses, are understaffed when trying to help patients, and potential recruits who could help supplement the workforce are unable to find accommodation in the area themselves. Lemmons said between 2020 and 2021, the hospital received 677 requests for housing assistance from patients.

“Our staff spend a lot more time figuring out how and where to discharge our patients. It doesn’t do anyone any good to send a patient back to a car or a hotel,” Lemmons said.

The hospital is “deeply in need” of nurses and doctors, Lemmons said, and they often hear that affordability is an issue for applicants.

“An orthopedic surgeon refused to come to Saint Al’s because he couldn’t find affordable housing in the area,” she said. “We just see challenges all around.”

The Idaho State Independent Living Council helps people with disabilities with needed services and supports, and while Executive Director Mel Leviton said housing has always been a challenge for people with disabilities, the current situation is much worse.

“What is different this year is that there are more people in difficult circumstances, and by difficult circumstances I mean we have people who come to our meetings because they find themselves at the library, because that’s where they spend their day cooling off and they live in their cars,” Leviton said. “Maybe it happened once or twice in years past, but it’s much more frequent now.”

Zoe Olson, executive director of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, said her organization responds to 40 to 50 calls for help daily with threats of eviction, and these are mostly people with disabilities, people of color and low-income individuals and families. Olson said they’ve partnered with the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and Jesse Tree to help connect people with emergency housing assistance funding, but they need more staff to help. people to fill out applications.

“Housing is health. Housing is a basic necessity, regardless of income,” Olson said. “We are in dire straits right now. We need the help of our leaders — because we have a (nearly $2 billion) surplus.”

Federal budget for fiscal year 2023 includes billions for housing assistance

Lemmons said the Idaho Workforce Housing Funding that lawmakers approved in the 2022 legislative session was a good start, but more needs to be done in the 2023 session to address it. the problem.

At the federal level, the Idaho Asset Building Network called on Congress to approve the following demands in President Joe Biden’s speech 2023 fiscal year budget:

  • The generalization of housing vouchers for 200,000 additional households
  • $5.1 billion for the Public Housing Investment Fund and $5.06 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund
  • $3.6 billion for the United States Homeless Assistance Grant Program for Housing and Urban Development
  • $100 million for legal assistance to prevent evictions
  • $300 million for competitive tribal housing program, targeted to tribes with the greatest needs

Funding for fiscal year 2023 will need to be approved or rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate by Oct. 1.

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