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Opening Doors to Affordable Housing

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Opening Doors to Affordable Housing

Employers get opportunity to make a difference for their employees

Almost half of the full-time resident households in Bonner County are considered to be low income by industry standards, earning less than $35,000 per year. About 37 percent of the county’s renter households earn less than $15,000 per year; another 21 percent earn between $15,000 and $25,000 per year. The private rental market is not producing rental units that are affordable to these households (rents of less than $450 per month). The majority of non-seasonal jobs projected by the employers surveyed for a study of affordable housing will pay between $10 and $35 per hour, requiring rental housing priced between $425 and $1,725, and for sale units priced between $157,000 and $287,000. Even in today’s market, these home prices are hard to come by.

In November last year, Community Frameworks  (www.communityframeworks.org) presented ideas for employers to assist their employees in offsetting housing costs. Unfortunately the meeting was not well attended. Yet Bonner County cannot afford to be passive about work-force housing. Fortunately, the Bonner Community Housing Agency, a non-profit organization, is on a mission to educate, partner and help fund affordable housing in Bonner County. It is essential for employers to commit their involvement to make this a reality and help secure our local economy.

Workforce housing has been and continues to be one of Bonner County’s biggest challenges. This challenge is not limited to employers. It reaches all aspects of our community, from establishing a stable employer base to our choice of quality health care, along with our ability to employ safety officers and educators, as well as attract a core of involved citizens who become valuable volunteers making this community so wonderfully unique. All are jeopardized because of our lack of affordable housing.

Why is affordable housing one of Bonner County’s biggest challenges and what can you do to help?

As an employer, you can become an involved member of BCHA’s Employer Assisted Housing Committee. BCHA (bonnercommunityhousing.org) is a credible and informed source, providing leadership in the area of affordable housing. Through an employer’s or citizen’s membership we are able to create partnerships that combine our competencies and make a difference.

What is EAH, who benefits, and how is it done? EAH is assistance provided by employers to enable their employees to obtain affordable housing in or near the community in which they work and that provides value to the employers.

EAH programs support employee recruitment and retention—and this equates to growth and profitability. It also leads to revitalization. Increased home ownership brings with it more community involvement, neighborhood stability, more jobs and an increased tax base. As an economic development tool, EAH programs influence an employer’s decision to locate or remain in our area, they increase the circulation of construction dollars and increase local business. These are essentials for a thriving community.

EAH is the right thing to do! As employers we have a greater responsibility to our community—this is simply a cost of doing business. Quality employees greatly improve the success of a business.

Increasing density and constructing in the service core where sewer, water and safety services, and paved roads already exist reduces sprawl, can reduce construction costs and can decrease commute time—reducing our carbon footprint, increasing net income by reducing transportation costs and creating time for community involvement.

As a member of Bonner Community Housing Agency’s EAH Committee, an employer can build relationships in the workforce and network with employers facing similar challenges and focus efforts in a united manner toward solutions. Solutions can include establishing Community Land Trusts. These trusts take the cost of land out of the cost of housing, keeping ownership and/or rents affordable.

 EAH is absolutely the best money you will ever spend. Investing in your foundation—your employees—pays the best dividends around! You will be recognized for your leadership. How gratifying would it be to help even one employee experience the American Dream—a secure and affordable home of their own?

EAH Programs can remove the biggest barriers to home-ownership. This includes the lack of understanding the home-buying process; the availability of cash for down payment; affordability; and financial literacy. Through an employer’s commitment to affordable housing, an employee’s lifestyle is enhanced, they have an opportunity to build equity and experience increased job satisfaction, increased productivity and loyalty to the employer.  This is a clear win-win for everyone.

What will it cost an employer? There are endless options from no-cost to high cost. Examples of low or no-cost to an employer would be to simply provide homebuyer education, credit counseling, and links to existing resources. All three of these services are available through BCHA. The first in a series of classes is scheduled to begin on January 24.

More moderate cost solutions include grants to cover closing costs or first/last month’s deposits (BCHA can help you establish these or to qualify); forgivable loans, with time and service required of the employee; deferred or repayable loans; providing funds for home improvement loans to increase safety or reduce energy costs or accommodate elderly parents living in the same home; interest rate buy-downs and matched savings accounts (in addition to retirement) to help employees save for a down payment. The last three items can be provided as part of your commercial banking package.

Those willing to spend more might consider shared appreciation; lease-to-own housing; master leases (a guarantee to the developer/builder to a certain number of employee residents); mortgage guarantees that cover closing costs or down payments, or allow for graduated mortgage payments; employer-developed housing; matching funds and/or tax credits; the donation of land for affordable housing; or participation in the employer housing trust fund.

The creative options are many, none of which require re-inventing the wheel. Here are some encouraging examples:

One area was trying to support teacher recruitment and retention to combat a 20 percent annual turnover rate. Another area was suffering recruitment and retention problems from a labor shortage and lack of affordable housing. A local non-profit provided down payment assistance and low-interest purchase loans. An EAH provided loan guarantees and below market first mortgages with graduated-payment features.

Another EAH program looking to revitalize neighborhoods provided  deferred payment and closing cost assistance to employees, and other neighborhood residents for rehab of older buildings and new construction.

In an extremely high-cost area, EAH provided homebuyer education and down payment assistance plus a 2-year lease-to-own program with built-in counseling. They partnered with a local lender to secure very favorable financing for their employees in return for certain corporate banking arrangements.

In order to provide a rental assistance program to support recruitment and retention of new employees, an EAH provided up to 3 years rental assistance, a pay difference between market and 28 percent of gross income.

Are you encouraged by what your involvement can do? Call BCHA President Andy Chapman at 208-255-4264 to find out more. Your membership will provide training and education resources, provide networking and advocacy, work with you to collaborate and develop policy alternatives and funding sources, and help establish a community land trust. Be a part of a ‘Respected and Unified Voice’ to create work-force housing in Bonner County. Join BCHA today!

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Angela Oakes Angela Oakes Angela Potts-Bopp is the owner of Summit Insurance Resource Group in Sandpoint, Idaho. A former professional ice skater, her passions are providing insurance for the uninsured, creating bike paths throughout town, and running marathons.

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