Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Housing help on the way

Statewide initiatives assist in home-buying process

Express Staff Writer

People who make 11 times the median income in Idaho might be able to buy a home in Sun Valley. The rest of the populace might be out of luck.

The average price of a home in Sun Valley is 11 times the median income, while in Hailey, it's four times that figure, reported Gerald Hunter, president and executive director of Idaho Housing and Finance Association, a nonprofit mortgage lending group.

Hunter spoke Thursday in Ketchum to a group of interested citizens and city officials about statewide initiatives to help fill the affordable housing gap. That gap, he said, is increasingly being felt in communities outside Blaine County.

"It's not just your burden anymore," Hunter said. "It's a burden being shared by the rest of the state. I think we've got some real challenges relative to affordable housing."

New initiatives in the past year are targeted at this issue, Hunter said. "A lot of the tools we've used in the past for affordable housing are not sufficient to address needs (now) because of escalating housing prices."

Hunter said public awareness is key.

"We're working on developing community awareness of these issues and tying it to economic development," he said. "We're focusing on community awareness so policy makers understand there's a problem coming and it will affect their community and their capacity to engage in economic development."

Efforts are being made at the federal level to change existing tools to give them more state control.

Under one proposed amendment, states would have the discretion of how much money to apply to funding gaps.

Hunter said people shouldn't count on the Idaho Legislature to allocate money for affordable housing projects in the near future.

There has been, however, some discussion about using local option taxes for that end, he said. But until legislators figure out the property tax burden, they are unlikely to try to solve other related issues.

"They'll be very reluctant to engage in something that makes it look like property taxes are going up," he said.

IHFA is working to establish financing packages for workforce housing in high-cost areas, Hunter said. The program would tailor financing initiatives to specific development projects.

One existing home-buying assistance option is IHFA's IdaMortgage program, which helps people find loans and grants.

Loans are also available for energy-efficient homes under a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program that gives special eligibility considerations for low- and moderate-income home loan applicants who buy newer, energy-efficient homes in Idaho.

"USDA Rural Development is making every effort to bring the dream of homeownership to more people," Mike Field, state director, said in a news release.

The program, called Home Energy Advantage, seeks to encourage efforts that emphasize energy conservation while making more affordable housing opportunities available to people who live in rural parts of Idaho.

The program is a nationwide pilot and will operate for the next 18 months.

For More Information

· U.S. Department of Agriculture, Click on "rural and community development" at the left.

· U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,

· Idaho Housing and Finance Association,

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