Position Piece on Affordable Housing

By Kiki Tidwell 4/15/19

What we have in Blaine County is an AirBnb problem; we have rental inventory but a misalignment of incentives that creates a housing shortage.

Owners of houses and condos don’t rent them out anymore to long term renters as they perceive that they can make more money renting them out to visitors short term.  Government agencies like the County can already give a developer density bonuses for including affordable housing in a development; this housing is deed restricted in perpetuity and the increased number of units is in perpetuity as well.  I believe that Blaine County could then give an annual stipend to a rental property owner in exchange for a temporary deed restriction which would restrict rentals to one year or longer rental periods.  This is an exchange of benefit for a temporary deed restriction. 

The dollar value of the stipend would make it about equal for the property owner to rent long term versus short term, with a cap on total per property owner to gear the program to the lower cost rentals.  To receive the stipend, a property owner would initially need to file a deed restriction document with the assessor and provide a proof of long term lease to the County.  But this can be kept in place as long as the homeowner wants, in exchange for the benefit each year.  This would create hundreds of available rentals overnight, without the County undertaking expensive building projects and lag time.

But we have a more important mindset shift to make here in Blaine County.  Some in the affordable housing group here have been so hell-bent on painting property owners as the evil NIMBYs in the storyline that they have missed the opportunity that property owners are key to the solution.  This is where people live, where they have put so much of their time, dollars, and energy into the asset which is their homes.  According to the Idaho State Tax Assessor, Blaine County has almost $10 billion worth of assessed property value.  Many homeowners have significantly supported, either with their time, talents, or dollars, many, many non-profits in the Valley which make life easier and better for all economic levels. 

The key is to meet with adjacent property owners very early on before presenting a plan of proposed density or other changes.  These homeowners have to live with the results of non-conforming solutions imposed on their existing zoning.  Ask them where there are areas of agreement; many of them actually care about solving housing for all in the County too. Many property owners may volunteer matching funds towards better solutions. I started out on the Buttercup situation offering funds, along with my neighbors, to rectify the substandard execution of the agreed-to-match-Agave development; to make it a win-win, a prototype for affordable housing that works with the neighbors.  Instead, now I am spending thousands of dollars in legal fees holding the County accountable to their own laws and zoning decisions.  You know, there is still a win-win solution possible there. 

Last year I applied to serve on the Blaine County Housing Authority board.  I hate wasting taxpayer dollars; I believe that an organization that has taken millions of dollars of city & county funds and charitable donations can do better than helping only 5 families per year find housing.   I have many years of experience in non-profit and real estate development work that could be beneficial to this board.  I have raised millions of dollars for non-profits in Idaho over the years.  Yet the County Commissioners refused to consider me for the board seat, without any explanation, nor transparent process of board qualifications and member selection, although my application was submitted prior to their decision meeting.  I am assumed to be the enemy because I have asked questions, gathered information, and have asked for accountability.  As County Commissioner, I would hold the Blaine County Housing Authority accountable to actual achievements in aiding folks in finding housing with concrete goals defined by measurable metrics.

As I read about yet another group of property owners dealing with the housing advocates’ pre-ordained solution for their neighborhood without talking to them, I say the enemy is rather the assumption that property owners are not to be included as part of the solution.

Dear Editor,

I have had affordable housing in my backyard, Agave Place, since 2005 and haven’t had any issue with it.  The Valley Club provided these 12 units of Agave Place as part of developing its PUD plat of the Valley Club West Nine subdivision in that year.  I have long wanted to provide play equipment on the PUD’s Parcel C, “The County Recreation Parcel”,  for the children living at Agave Place and for kids riding to it on the bikepath.  It was supposed to be developed in coordination with the Rec District. It is a streamfront parcel which could provide the public with picnic tables and a rest stop from a bike ride, or destination waterfront recreational fishing spot for people with mobility issues.  I and my neighbors have previously offered Blaine County Housing Authority and ARCH many tens of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions to fence Parcel C off from illegal truck parking and commercial operations that were causing a fire hazard, and to rectify the failure of ARCH’s Parcel B installation to meet the design criteria publicly agreed to (matching Agave Place). The public no longer has use of Public Use Parcel B as there has been a house moved to it, it has been sold off to private individuals, and it is fenced off. 

I did have an issue with Blaine County in Feb 2018 issuing a building permit on this PUD’s Parcel C Open Space Recreational Use park, without following their own County laws to work with the developers to replat the piece legally.  This is like someone getting an apartment building permit on County-owned Rotarun grounds without any public process or notice. It is dangerous to a democracy to have government officials believe that one can act above the law; the U.S.A. is based on equal laws for everyone and  ‘no special above-the-law deals to cronies.  This building permit for a duplex on the substandard-sized .67 acre Parcel C lot was issued to a private, nongovernmental entity, ARCH, which didn’t have an active lease on the property at the time. 

I believed that the County issuance of a building permit was not legal and so instituted an action with the County in 2018 to contest it.  ARCH and BCHA requested to be allowed into the case. The County has been pursuing expensive litigation in several instances in the County where it I believe it could reach a mediated solution with homeowners; Flying Heart, Lees Gulch, and potentially now Greenhorn Gulch.  Unfortunately now in our case we are going to trial.

I am not against affordable housing; I had lived quite peacefully with a well-designed project in my neighborhood now for 15 years. I also submitted my resume’ to the Blaine County Commissioners to serve as a volunteer on the Blaine County Housing Authority, but the Commissioners refused me even an interview for the position, although the board position was open. I have offered to become a Yes-In-My-Backyard-charitable donation–level member of ARCH, but ARCH has refused me membership.  ARCH does not hold publicly-open meetings and can keep a closed membership.

I have been hopeful that the County Commissioners would recognize that they need to operate under their own laws. They still can.