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Idaho's new identity as the fastest-growing state in the country is putting a strain on its rustic character: farmland is disappearing, home prices continue to rise while wages struggle to keep up .In our upcoming news series Our Changing Idaho, we explore these growing pains and how this shift is affecting the Treasure Valley and beyond.

Our Changing Idaho: Growth In Boise

Samantha Wright
Boise State Public Radio
Boise natives are moving to subdivisions like this one in Kuna, which are cropping up next to farm fields and pastures.

Sixth-grade teacher Mandy Stansell has lived in Boise her whole life, but three months ago she moved to her new home, looking out over the farm fields of Kuna.

“So it was kind of, kind of a big change for me to move out here,” says Stansell.

After a year and a half of looking, and not finding, a bigger house in Boise, she and her husband decided to build a house in Kuna. They moved in in March and she misses the department stores and restaurants she left behind in Boise.

“I like being close to things where I was at in Boise, I mean there were three grocery stores nearby, but overall it was a hard choice because Boise is what has been home for me,” says Stansell.

When we asked listeners about growth in Boise, a lot of them were like Stansell: unable to find a single-family home in the city. And for many, the rising prices of homes were a barrier.

In February, Boise Regional Realtors reported the number of homes on the market in Ada County hit a record low. Few homes were also up for grabs in May, setting a new high median sales price of $305,000 — more than 16 percent higher than this same time last year.

“It just seems that anybody that is not making two-income, upper-middle class wages, if they don’t have a home already, they’re really going to struggle to put down payments down and everything else," Stansell says. "You’re making decent money, you should be able to quality for a home, you know?"

Earlier this year Forbes Magazine said Boise and the surrounding metropolitan area was the fastest-growing area in the nation for 2018. The city’s population grew by over 3 percent last year.

“You know cities are living, breathing organisms. The only thing constant I think is change that we likely couldn’t stop if we wanted to and on the other hand, we don’t want to,” says Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Sixth-grade teacher Mandy Stansell loves her new home in Kuna, but misses much of what Boise had to offer.

According to Bieter, the city is growing fast, though not as fast as in the past. According to the U.S. Census, the city has been growing at 2.1 percent since 2010. But in the 1970s and again in the 90s, the growth rate was over 4.5 percent.

“The rate is disconcerting to people, I also understand it’s a lot better place, in so many ways,” says Bieter.

As for housing prices, Bieter says that’s a function of supply and demand.

“Supply is really what we need to focus on and get as many approved in the right way, in the right places, that we can,” says Bieter.

Bieter says he doesn’t have many tools, when it comes to reducing housing prices. Idaho doesn’t allow rent control or inclusionary zoning. He says what he can do is get more housing approved - the city anticipates having to build 1,000 dwelling units a year for the next 20 years, to keep pace with growth. Over the past five years, Boise has exceeded that, building an average of 1,193 units a year.

But city leaders say they want smart growth, not sprawl. That’s part of Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan adopted in 2011. It’s a guide for how the city wants to grow in the next 20 years.

Daren Fluke is Boise’s Comprehensive Planning Manager.

“We anticipated this growth, maybe not quite this fast but we did anticipate it and we have a plan to accommodate it,” says Fluke.

He says both Baby Boomers and Millennials want to live in smaller homes.

“Based on the work that we’ve done, we think that we’re pretty well built with single-family dwellings and that the demand side of the equation is really more in the multi-family, or higher density, type products,” says Fluke.

The city has responded accordingly. In the last five years, 60 percent of new housing has been multi-family.

“A large percentage of our growth is actually happening through infill development, so you’re seeing vacant parcels that are getting two or three, maybe four dwelling units on them,” says Fluke.

But building more houses won't solve Boise's problems, says Lori Dicaire. She started the Facebook advocacy group Vanishing Boise. She says people moving to Boise from California, Portland and Seattle are driving up housing prices.  

“We are moving towards the excuse that we have to build more housing to solve this problem," says Dicaire. "Building more housing only gets you more housing. It creates a crowd, not a community. We’re losing our sense of place in all of this growth."

Every time a new person moves here, it might mean someone who has been living here for years or grew up here is being displaced. - Lori Dicaire

Dicaire says Vanishing Boise was formed to document the loss of open space, mom-and-pop businesses and historic buildings. She’s worried that Boise is losing its character.

“We’re sacrificing our exceptional quality of life to add more and more people and reduce our open space and our farmland,” says Dicaire.

Teacher Mandy Stansell admits she’s now part of that open space problem in Kuna. Her new house sits on an old llama ranch – the animals are long gone to make room for her subdivision.

“That kind of makes me a little sad, but I kind of know we have to change things, period, because change is inevitable,” says Stansell.

The city is holding two public workshops on growth this week, to talk with citizens about Boise’s future. Vanishing Boise says they are working with the city to share their concerns.

According to the city’s biannual citizen survey, completed a couple months ago, 62 percent of residents said Boise’s growth is positive for the community. And 92 percent said Boise’s overall quality of life exceeds or greatly exceeds expectations.

But planning for growth is a top concern for those who took the survey, with the cost of rent and mortgages steadily ticking up as the city tries to make room for the 19 people who move to Boise every day.

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
This farm field stand directly across from new subdivisions in Kuna, showing the dichotomy caused by growth in the Treasure Valley.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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