Bill using $50 million for workforce housing fund passes Senate

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

After barely making it out of the House, the Senate passed a workforce housing bill on Tuesday in a 26-9 vote.

HB 701 passed the House of Representatives in a 37-31 vote earlier this month. The bill would use $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal relief money for housing. 

The money would be used for providing financial assistance for workforce housing development with gap financing. 

The funding will be administered by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and developers would be required to apply for the funding grants.

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, said the rent rate at the properties must be affordable to 80% of the area’s median income residents and it is anticipated that the funding could create about 1,000 units in Idaho.

Local municipalities that provide a match to the funding will be given preference under the bill. A match could be financial, or come in other forms such as fee waivers or infrastructure. 

At least 20 percent of the money must be used for rural areas. If, after a period of two years, any portion of these funds remains unused in rural areas, the balance shall become available to all communities.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said she was concerned about some of the language in the bill, saying it “Feels a little reckless to me with $50 million.”

“Workforce housing is a critical issue, however it’s not something we are constitutionally obligated to provide for,” Den Hartog said.

The bill does have a sunset, meaning it would void after 2026, consistent with ARPA requirements.

In the House, bill sponsor Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said that if the state does not use the money it will go to another state.

The bill now heads to the governor for signature.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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