From a post by Erik Kingston, Boise, who works professionally in housing services and analysis. (This post has been updated.)
The recent Jesse Tree newsletter states that 2,246 Ada County residents became homeless for the first time in 2018—a period that developers, realtors and the local officials who support them would describe as one of ‘unmatched prosperity and growth.’ It is ridiculously easy to become homeless right now…far easier than it was 16 years (or four terms) ago.
More and more of my calls on the housing information line are from retirees—mostly women—in their 70s and 80s and facing homelessness for the first time in their lives. But many also include working families and individuals in low-wage service sector jobs. One day an investor buys the property and they receive a notice that gives them two choices:
1. Sign a new month-to-month lease with a 30% to 40% rent increase
But if moving is their only option (because SSI doesn’t go up 30% to 40%), here’s the thing: the Rental Vacancy Rate (RVR) in Ada County as of Dec. 6 (yesterday) was 0.4% for units affordable to a household income of $41,000 or less. That’s less than one available unit for every 200 units in that price range. The actual numbers from housingidaho.com on 12/6/2019 tell me that out of 6,173 units in that price range, only 25 show as available.
That’s not much to choose from if—for instance—a 188-unit complex is snapped up by a Beverly Hills hedge fund and a third of the residents are forced out. When any outside investor assumes ownership of our local housing market, two things happen:
1. Rents go up and tenants can become ‘housing cost burdened’ (spending more than 30% of their income on rent) or ‘severely housing cost burdened’ (spending more than 50% of household income on rent). This means they have less money to invest in the local economy, also known as ‘foregone spending.’ Shift Research Lab estimates that for 2018, ‘foregone spending’ in Idaho—owing to housing cost burden—totaled $670M
2. Displaced tenants face significant financial and emotional stress, which can lead to compromised mental and physical health, lost productivity, domestic violence, suicide, and increased reliance on public programs and resources that represent a public subsidy to the private equity of investors.
It doesn’t matter that many of these tenants—particularly seniors— have worked their whole lives and now receive social security and a small pension.
It doesn’t matter that they’ve lived in the same rental for decades, have always paid rent on time and are model tenants.
It doesn’t matter that they’ve developed a support network (i.e. ‘social cohesion and capital’) with fellow tenants, neighbors and local businesses that allows them to look after one another rather than relying on public services.
It doesn’t matter that ‘homeless shelters aren’t designed for women my age’ (actual quote from an 85 year-old caller being forced out of her home of several decades by the new investor/owner).
All that matters is than an investor or group of investors have identified her Boise home as a commodity—an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of these tenants, their neighborhood, and our community.
How will she move a lifetime of memories, furniture, dishes, medical devices, clothing, photos and art from her grandkids? Where will she live?