Depot Square

Depot Square, an affordable housing and commercial complex in Driggs, could break ground as soon as this summer.

Housing authority plans coming to fruition 

For nearly five years the Community Resource Center of Teton Valley has operated a page on its website with a running inventory of available rentals in the valley, gleaned from property management sites, Facebook, Craigslist, and private postings. As of the first week of March, the page had six rental rooms or houses listed, for prices between $1,075 for a one-bedroom basement apartment to $4,000 for a two-bedroom house.

The page has been receiving around 2,000 unique visits per week.

“The rental inventory is absurdly low,” CRC executive director Betsy Hawkins told the Teton County Joint Housing Authority on March 3. “In my three years in this role, we have always had some rentals available. But now the inventory is low and the prices are quite high.”

More recently the CRC started offering rental search assistance. Although the nonprofit never advertised the request form, which can be found on its website, submissions poured in. There are currently 37 households or individuals that filled out the form on the CRC’s waiting list.

“The crunch is much greater,” Hawkins said.

The CRC also maintains a quality of life fund for emergency needs including rent, offers assistance on first/last/security payments, and provides help to households seeking rent assistance through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. Thanks to a new round of funding, IHFA announced this week that people who qualify can receive up to 15 months of rent assistance.

“We’ve had fantastic success with that program,” Hawkins said. “The process itself is a little bit nuanced and requires a lot of documentation but it greatly exceeds what we can do on our organization’s level. We saw one applicant get four months of rent at $1,500 a month.”

While that assistance can keep people from losing their homes, if a family or individual is searching for housing, financial aid doesn’t always help, Hawkins said. “With not much housing available, you better have the money in hand right that second or you’re not getting the lease.”

The housing authority is seeing some tangible results from its push for more affordable housing in the valley, although it won’t help any renters looking for homes this summer.

Depot Square, a Front Street housing development in Driggs that was first proposed last May and supported by the Driggs Urban Renewal Agency and city council, is slated to break ground in August. The project is funded by a private developer who will receive a sizeable tax credit for providing 30 apartments for people who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. Units could be available to lease by fall of 2022.

Another project might come to fruition even sooner. Recently, Driggs community development director and housing authority facilitator Doug Self was able to connect LEAP Housing Solutions, a Boise nonprofit, with notoriously difficult-to-pin-down board members of the Karl Johnson Foundation, a Jackson nonprofit that owns large parcels of multi-family residential land in Teton Valley and operates several mobile home parks.

LEAP presented its vision of revitalizing the Gemstone Subdivision, a partially-developed neighborhood also owned by the KJF that was intended for affordable housing in Driggs. Gemstone has 135 undeveloped lots with all the necessary infrastructure already installed; LEAP is proposing to sublease the lots from the foundation then install modular units and sell the homes to people who earn less than 80 percent of the AMI. The homes would cost between $200,000 and $300,000 and the owners would lease the land. The project could also include apartment buildings along 5th Street.

Self told the housing authority that the KJF board of directors were tentatively interested, but wanted to prioritize housing for the local workforce and sought confirmation that the agreement would be financially beneficial to the foundation. Because the KJF is currently paying property taxes and upkeep on 135 vacant lots, Self could confirm it would behoove them to have the land developed.

“If everything works as fast as LEAP wants, they could be installing and selling homes by fall of this year,” Self said.

Housing commissioner Shawn Hill thanked Self for his years of work guiding Gemstone back to relevance. “This is really exciting,” Hill said. “This will be a real shot in the arm for the community if it happens.”

The housing authority is also directing its attention to projects elsewhere in the valley. On March 10, Hill and commission chair Carol Barker presented several concepts to the Victor City Council and received muted interest from the council members, who are tackling their own facility needs. The council did seem open to a proposal to put housing on a city-owned triangle of land east of the Kotler Ice Arena. The city is also entertaining the possibility of including residential units on or near its new city hall structure, but the council felt it needed more information about funding and security measures before seriously considering that.

More information is available at driggsidaho.org/housing; the housing authority meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month.