Idaho Housing Needs
From crowded shacks to Habitat homes.
The Building of Homes Has Changed
The Way It Used To Be
I (Verne Blalack) remember my father telling about building a house (late 30s – early 40s) by cutting down 4 trees and using their stumps for a foundation. Tarpaper was used to keep out the wind and the rain and was replaced as needed until one could afford a more permanent roof. Most people started out with something simple and cheap and improved their homes as their money and spare time permitted. As time went on, many of these buildings grew into the comfortable homes many of us now live in.
The Way It Is Now
Now if one starts to build his own home, it is necessary to buy and study building codebooks and learn how to draw building plans (or pay to have then drawn). Then one has to see planning and zoning officials, electrical officials, plumbing officials, building officials, etc. You also have to have enough income to arrange for a loan to complete the home because you’ve got to finish everything before you can get an occupancy permit for your own home! We as a society have made it impossible for most young families to build their own homes. We have said to them in effect, “If you can’t afford to build an up-to-date middle class home, all at once, we won’t let you build a home!”
Idaho’s Economy Has Changed
Historically, Idaho has been supported by its agriculture and natural resources industries. These industries have seen declines in employment. Retail trades, service industries. and tourism are now absorbing workers. Many newly created jobs pay excellent wages and have excellent benefits. Other jobs pay minimum wages and have few benefits. Some high-income families are living in modern day mansions, while low-income families have trouble paying rent. In 1998, in Idaho, this meant that a minimum wage earner had to work 76 hours per month to rent a 2-bedroom unit!
Between 1990 and 1994 Idaho’s population grew more than 15%. Over one-third of the new expected households between 1995 and 2000 were expected to have incomes of less than $20,000 per year. When the impacts of low wages are coupled with the influx of population and the shrinking availability of housing, the issue of affordability becomes central. Rents and sales prices of homes have skyrocketed across Idaho as the supply of housing becomes tighter and tighter.
The Future State of Idaho’s Housing
Now that we’ve made it impossible for poor families to build their own homes, the future of affordable housing for low income and very low income families depends not only on the demographic and income trends but also on the willingness of the federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private and public sector, to address the problem. One non-profit organization, Habitat for Humanity, makes it again possible for some very low-income families to afford and build their own homes.