(Created for housing and community stakeholders by Erik Kingston, PCED, IHFA’s Housing Resources Coordinator)
The housing ecosystem: economics and equity. In general, an ecosystem is defined as ‘…a complex network or interconnected system.” A healthy housing ecosystem—much like a healthy forest or market—contains a diverse mix of complementary species or forms that fill different niches. Monocultures are more vulnerable to changing conditions; both farmers and investors know the risks of relying on a single crop or stock.
We need housing for the diverse mix of people in a community, from producers to consumers, and across the spectrum of skills, needs and abilities.
Expanding housing choice has benefits far beyond fair housing compliance and civil rights; housing diversity is equally important for community and economic development strategies. Housing types and price points that reflect the needs and incomes of all community residents support a more stable labor force and educational system, reduce social costs of poverty, and lead to economic prosperity for all of us.
In other words, a functioning ecosystem.
Conversely, housing speculation and inflation that drive prices up and tenants out—assisted and magnified by NIMBY opposition to new residential development or density—create externalized costs that are shifted to local taxpayers, employers, consumers and communities. Creating vast low-density subdivisions separated from activity, retail, and employment centers expands dependence on cars, shifting public investments from people and placemaking to roads and parking infrastructure.
And a lack of housing within reach of workers drives demand for wage increases and leads to business contraction and overall inflation, which impact all residents.
“Housing that is affordable to a range of incomes serves as a perpetual wage subsidy to local employers.” — Dr. Peter Dreier
Supply and demand. Strictly speaking, the laws of supply and demand don’t apply equally to housing and things like oil or corn. Standard commodity prices can respond to market shifts in hours, days or weeks, while housing prices may change over years—owing to the lag time involved in building and permitting enough inventory to change demand for tenants. But just like oil and corn, housing relies on taxpayer supports to make it seem affordable. And that boils down to policy priorities.
How to make housing ‘affordable’
- Increase wages indefinitely to subsidize real estate speculation—this in turn fuels overall inflation in goods and services, with costs passed on to employers and consumers.
- Use taxes to subsidize those employer and consumer costs—through housing choice vouchers and development incentives that keep rents low for essential workers (who do not earn a living wage). We’re used to this for commodities like corn, oil, sugar, or potatoes. Costs are shared by all taxpayers to reduce prices at the point of sale.
- Re-imagine housing, since many Americans are choosing more affordable lifestyles simply by thinking differently about their housing needs. For some, small-footprint residential options—cottage homes, ADUs, Tiny Homes (on foundations or wheels), courtyard apartments, residential hotels, etc.—are the answer. For others, expanding the definition of household to include housing cooperatives and Home Share models that reduce costs and create a sense of community works best. Housing has never been a ‘one -size-fits-all proposition.
- Eliminate low-density zoning and policies that exclude the distribution of diverse housing types and price points throughout our neighborhoods and community. Allowing modest density by right means local developers are able to create small-footprint, modest density residential without the delays and cost overruns created by NIMBY. That allows essential workers to ‘rent local,’ which keeps their wages and incomes circulating in the local economy.
Beyond these approaches, conditioning density on some lasting community benefit—such as deed-restricted housing, aging-friendly/’Visitable’ design, and/or housing near public transit—serves diverse incomes. But when neighbors consistently reject distributed residential density and diversity (i.e., competition for tenants), landlords can increase rents unchecked.
Smaller local developers proposing medium density or mixed-income housing operate on slim margins; they are often unable to overcome NIMBY-driven delays and hurdles. This leaves most housing development to larger (often out-of-state) corporate developers with significant capacity and legal teams to drive the housing market.
Beyond speculation and NIMBY, the net costs of housing are influenced by transportation, energy, land, labor, materials, construction, regulatory and financing factors. Increasingly, the cost of adapting inaccessible housing for seniors, veterans or others with disabilities can be prohibitive. And in many rural communities, workers must often commute long distances to find housing within their budget, while the cost to heat or cool inefficient housing can exceed rent in some cases. Imagine a ‘T.R.U.V. (Transportation + Rent + Utilities +Visitability) Index’ to reflect real-world cost considerations.
Location, location, location. Housing costs are driven by land costs, but the value of land is dependent on its proximity to publicly-subsidized infrastructure, water, assets and resources. A building site in a roadless area without services or water is valued less than a site near libraries, schools, health care and high-speed broadband. Learn more here.
One could also make the argument that the value of a neighborhood reflects the people who make that neighborhood livable, safe, provisioned and maintained. In that way, essential workers provide a subsidy to the value of our homes and community when they sacrifice time, health, safety, and opportunity by commuting long distances or living in substandard, overcrowded, or unhealthy housing—or are unhoused.
Housing myths. Common quotes from policy makers over the years:
“The market will take care of our housing needs.” If this were true, we wouldn’t be in a housing crisis and everyone would have stable, affordable and quality housing near employment, education, health care and transit. Most private developers are in business to make money, and investor returns trump tenant interests.
“Affordable housing means more crime and undesirables.” The design and use of public space, lack of education or employment opportunities, and social inequality can influence crime, while density or income are not predictors of criminal activity. Modern multifamily or other mixed-income housing developments are well-designed, well-constructed and well-managed. Those units typically house tenants who are already part of our communities—essential workers, families, students, seniors and people with disabilities—who are currently cost burdened or living in unstable or unsafe housing.
“We only want high-end housing, because it pays for itself.” In reality, the reverse is often true. When individuals and families are housing cost burdened (paying more than 30% of household income towards housing costs), we see an increase in foregone or crowded-out spending. This is money that would otherwise be invested in taxable goods and services—spent on food, education, healthcare, and self-reliance. Cost-burdened households are also more likely to rely on public assistance. In 2022, Idaho lost an estimated $1.05B to foregone spending tied to housing cost burden. See an estimate on Idaho’s Foregone Spending tied to Housing Cost Burden here: CFC_Idaho_foregone_spending_2010_2021
We hope to update and expand tools and resources below to be more useful to policy makers and housing stakeholders. These data can help inform a larger statewide housing needs assessment and resource allocation process. See also “2022-2027 AI What cities and counties should know about fair housing‘ for additional information from the 2022 Analysis of Impediments.
Resources and references
Assessing Housing Markets and Needs
- Housing Market Overview Idaho > Current Version
- Workforce Housing Business Leader Survey 2023
County data sets for demographics, poverty and housing/transportation cost burden
- Data sets for 2022 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing
- 2018 Idaho County Level Demographic and Housing Data*
- 2014 Idaho County Demographic and Housing Data V2 PDF
- Housing Transportation Affordability (HTA) Index—Treasure Valley
*The contractor for the 2014 version based ‘cost-burden’ data on the American Community Survey, while the contractor for the 2018 release used cost-burden estimates from HAMFI and CHAS data, a subset of the ACS estimate.
Statewide and regional housing initiatives
- Connect Kootenai on Housing and Growth
- West Central Mountains Economic Development Council
- COMPASS Regional Housing Coordination Plan
- Colorado Housing Affordability Project (CHAP)
- Utah Housing Coalition
Redlining, Exclusionary Zoning and Density Considerations
“…redlining as a practice was technically barred with the passage of the Fair Housing Act and Housing and Urban Development Acts of 1968. Yet even after redlining was made illegal, policies such as residential zoning laws and the development of a credit score continued inequality in housing markets.” —Urban Institute: Assessing the legacies of historic redlining
- Segregated by Design This 17-minute film is based on ‘The Color of Law’ by Richard Rothstein (see below)
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America
- NIMBY Equity and Liability: Why Planners Need to Understand Fair Housing Law
- AFFH Proposed Rule Published 2/9/2023
- Lawsuit Threatens Council’s Modest Progress on Housing Crisis
A widespread shortage of affordable housing is causing local jurisdictions to amend their outdated land-use regulations, many reflecting the residue of historic redlining practices. Here’s a list of 10 highly effective reforms, with notes on why they are needed. Top code reform priorities for the housing crisis 03.28.2023
Other online housing resources
Idaho Analysis of Impediments / Assessment of Fair Housing
- 2022 Idaho Analysis of Impediments
- Data sets for 2022 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing
- 2022-2027 AI What cities and counties should know about fair housing
- Analysis of Impediments 2021 APA ID
- Idaho AI executive summary_with infographics (002)
- 2017 Idaho Assessment of Fair Housing Final Report
- 2011 Analysis of Impediments
U.S. housing market: impressions, impacts and implications
- Meet the Latest Housing Crisis Scapegoat
- Housing Breaks People’s Brains: Supply skepticism and shortage denialism are pushing against the actual solution to the housing crisis: building enough homes.
- Bipartisan Center: Ten Actions Cities Can Take to Improve Housing Affordability | .pdf
- Breaking Down the Barriers to Affordable Housing
- MacArthur Foundation “How Housing Matters” study April 2014
- The Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance
- HUD’s Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse
- HUD Form 27300 – America’s Affordable Communities Initiative
Housing Market Challenges
- Impacts of Vacation Homes and Short-Term Rentals on Housing Affordability in Ketchum, Idaho (36″ x 48″ wall summary poster)
- Driving a Vibrant Economy: Housing’s Role in Colorado’s Economic Success
- Housing Affordability Burden for U.S. Cities
- Federal Rental Assistance Fact Sheet
- National and State Fact Sheets Data
- Idaho Fact Sheet: Federal Rental Assistance
- Economic and household income projections for Idaho
- Cost burden maps from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
Housing and Transportation: location-based costs
- Creating Connected Communities (HUD/CPD)
- Affordable housing and transit should go hand-in-hand
- 12 ways developers can guide tenants to better transportation decisions
- Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
- 2022 Access Idaho Adventure
Tiny Houses and Personal Shelters: implications and opportunities for housing, planning and economic development professionals
- Next Steps for Small-Footprint Housing (2016 APA/Idaho Conference)
- Tiny Houses, and the Not-So-Tiny Questions They Raise
- Get Small Think Big: Housing for a New Economy and Legal Landscape (2015 APA/Idaho Chapter Conference)
- Sustainable Building Codes
- Idaho Division of Building Safety – Tiny Houses, Manufactured Homes, Modular Buildings and Recreational Buildings
- 12/07/2016 History is Made: Tiny Houses Approved, Incorporated into IRC
- Joint APA ID APA UT Conference Plan Ahead_Visitability slides | ASSIST Community Design Center
- Idaho City Clerks, Treasurers, and Financial Officers Association (ICCTFOA) Institute
- Association of Idaho Cities: Accessible Communities
- Association of Idaho Cities: What you need to know about fair housing
- RMLUI Asking Directions: Experts with disabilities lead the way
- Access-Means-Business-Regional ED-2022
- Access Means Business AIC 2022
- Don’t miss the boat! Expanding accessible travel experiences for all | ICORT
- 5.26.2022 PAC Housing: Re-thinking Housing Assumptions & Strategies
- 4.21.2022 Clearwater Economic Development Association Housing Discussion
- 2022 Latah County Affordable Housing Roundtable
- Western Community Assessment Network (WeCAN) Peer Learning Network: Housing Solutions Roundtable | Housing Basics | Housing Solutions Toolkit and Guide
- 2021 Rural Housing Plenary Partners for Rural America Conference | Session video
- Analysis of Impediments APA ID | Session video
- Count Us In: Inclusive Planning and Design for Community Health, Mobility and Safety
- Whose Home on the Range? Rural Housing Challenges and Strategies
Public Subsidy to Private Equity: Measuring the Social Costs of Housing Speculation
- Introduction and Overview | Kingston
- Implication of Housing Instability on Education | Dexter
- The Economic Impacts | Newcomer
APA Idaho Chapter
- APA October 2020 Inclusive Design
- APA Idaho_Housing and Community Access_Inclusive Planning for Success
- Disability Law for Planners – Stephen Miller
10/2019 APA Idaho Chapter – Twin Falls, ID
7/2019 NW Community Development Institute
6/2019 Association of Idaho Cities
Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute
10/2017 Idaho Chapter/APA Conference Presentations
Links to resources:
- House flipping activity
- UN report on housing / Habitat III
- Vancouver housing crisis threatens economy
- How 1,379 Affordable Housing Programs Stack Up
- New Urban Agenda Habitat III
- Ketchum Short-Term Rental Study
2017 NW Community Development Institute
Related stories and links
- Happy Birthday Dodd-Frank!
- Toronto’s Unpredictable Housing Market
- Commodification of Housing
- Vancouver Addresses Short-Term Rental Issue
- Swiss Communities Fight the Property Bubble Effect
- Housing No Longer Viewed As Human Right (UN Report)
- House Rules: History of the Fair Housing Act
2017 Association of Idaho Cities Conference
10/2016 Idaho Chapter/APA Conference Presentations
Next Steps for Small-Footprint Housing
- We’re building more three-car garages than one-bedroom apartments
- Planning Behind
- (see also Tiny House section above)
Communities for Life: Aging-in-Place
The Changing Face of Fair Housing: Assessment of Fair Housing
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities
- Federal Housing Spending Poorly Matched to Need
- Idaho Fact Sheet 2015: Federal Rental Assistance
- Housing Choice Voucher Utilization Data by State
- Rental listing and locator services: www.housingidaho.com
- Landlord RackCard_Layout_2015
2016 NW CDI Course—Third Year: Housing as a Second Language
- Get Small Think Big: Housing for a New Economy and Legal Landscape (2015 APA/Idaho Chapter Conference – see also Tiny House section above)
- Housing challenges presentation 2015