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Mayor McLean talks about Boise tent protest, Interfaith Sanctuary appeal and affordable housing

A photo of three tents on the grass with the Idaho Statehouse in the background.
George Prentice
Shortly after the beginning of the 2022 session of the Idaho Legislature, nearly two dozen tents were pitched outside the Capitol.

Nearly four weeks into a high-profile protest across from the Idaho Capitol, Idaho State Police have handed out several citations, seized some belongings and, according to an Idaho State Police press release, “continued to educate those on-site as to allowable and prohibited uses of state property.”

Just down the street, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean sees the protest as an effort “to bring attention to the plight of those experiencing homelessness in our community and our state.”

“This has impacts well beyond Boise,” said McLean. “This tent protest is one of those examples of what we are allowed to do in our great country in terms of protesting and asking for services and policies.”

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the protest, the city council’s pending decision on an appeal regarding the future of the Interfaith Sanctuary shelter, and the city’s new effort to encourage more affordable housing.

“We all know the need is real. And so, as we've said, time and time again, we're going to keep trying new ideas, innovate, copy what's worked in other places, come up with solutions that work for Boise.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News Good morning. I'm George Prentice Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is here. On any given day, there is plenty to consider, so let's get to it.

I'd be remiss if I did not ask you about a group of men and women who have pitched tents in Boise's downtown core not too far from Boise City Hall. What do you see when you see that? Do you see a protest? Or do you see some representation that we don't have enough room in our homeless shelters? What lens are you looking through when you look at that?

LAUREN MCLEAN: Sure. This tent protest is staged and set up to bring attention to the plight of those experiencing homelessness in our community and our state, because this has impacts well beyond Boise and they're on state land. And I appreciate the back and forth and conversation that we've had with the state as they've navigated this and also appreciated the opportunity to speak with those experiencing homelessness that have spent time at the tent protests. As a city, we've sent our social workers through on a regular basis to make sure that those there who are experiencing homelessness have the tools that we have available at their disposal, and we try to match them with services. And this tent protest is one of those examples of what we are allowed to do in our great country in terms of protesting and asking for services, and policies.

PRENTICE: We've all been watching closely as Interfaith Sanctuary is appealing a planning and zoning denial of their proposal to move operations to a state street location, at least at this point. The City Council will have the final say on that appeal. I won't ask you how you would vote, but I will ask you that if by any chance it comes down to a tie. Are you prepared now to decide one way or another or do you want to hear more Aon this? Do you need to know more on this?

MCLEAN: s a city, we have said that we are committed to a Housing First methodology, so we are seeking to increase the number of permanent, supportive housing units for those experiencing homelessness, think families think the medically fragile. And we have a great partner in interfaith when it comes to serving those in our community that need emergency shelter because even as we develop permanent housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness in our community, there are emergencies and people need a roof over their heads to sleep at night, and there's a role for emergency shelter to play in our city and others. This issue is always going to be a tough issue for a community to grapple with. And right now, we are having the conversation and we have to have the conversation because of the request before City Council about where shelters can be sited, how they should be operated, how you protect the integrity of neighborhoods around them and honor the dignity of the folks that need the services. That's the process that our community is going through right now. And the quirky thing about Idaho Code is that I have to be prepared to vote in the event of a tie. And in many communities, many states, mayors are not involved in that process, but instead are involved solely in the administration of services such as these. And so, I have the unique role of following the planning and zoning hearing, having read, and followed our shelter better task force, reading the record that we have now hearing the concerns of the neighborhood.

Looking at the conditions that have been or might be applied to this application and then weighing in with the vote. If there's an event where the council ties on this, I really believe that this is a council decision and there needs to be a solution that has a majority of council members to move forward. But the code requires me to vote. At the same time, I have to step away from this quasi-judicial, if you will, process and look at the system as a whole and make sure that we have plans in place to meet housing needs of our community at all price points, make sure that we have emergency shelter in our community to meet those night needs and that we have long term solutions paired to folks that need support services to prevent homelessness in the long run. And so, as a city, we've taken a multifaceted approach to housing, and homelessness will continue to do so. We're leading on the effort, and I believe we can bring solutions to scale because of the advancements we've made as a community and the commitment that Boise ins have shown time and time again to supporting Housing First methodologies.

PRENTICE: I've got just a couple of minutes left, but I want to talk about the housing investment program just announced using the city's Land Trust, where city owned land could be used to lease to developers in exchange for a plan that would include affordable housing. Are there plans somewhere in the pipeline? I'm curious about what you've heard. Are there conversations at any stage with any developers?

MCLEAN: Last week we launched it, and somebody did ask, “Well, what's new about this?” And what's new is that we're using a request for qualifications process to solicit teams of developers of homes that we could qualify to work with us in our land trust. So, we already did establish a land trust, and we have two ongoing projects right now one at Franklin and Orchard, one at State and Arthur, and about 370 homes in the queue to be built for Boise and through our land trust process where we own the land. And so, it makes it more affordable for folks that build homes to build them and then rent them, and they're required to keep them affordable at Boise budgets. So, this new housing investment program speeds up that process because we'll already have pre-qualified developers to work with us on our land trust land, and that'll shave off the time of redoing the process every time we have a piece of land that we want to see use for affordable housing. And since last week, we've noted that 11 different parties have downloaded the request for qualifications, and that's a really good sign. In less than a week that we've seen that level of interest and there is a deadline by which they have to respond, and then we'll start to go through the process of selecting the long-term relationships that we will have with builders of homes to build homes at Boise budgets on Boise Land Trust land.

PRENTICE: When you say 11, are we talking about developers or potential developers?

MCLEAN: Yes, we can only assume because they've downloaded the program that they are looking into, whether or not they'd like to apply to be selected to work with us.

PRENTICE: So, the appetite is there?

MCLEAN: And we all know the need is real. And so, as we've said, time and time again, we're going to keep trying new ideas, innovate, copy what's worked in other places, come up with solutions that work for Boise to be able to get homes online for Boise et Boise budgets.

PRENTICE: Well, here we are again talking housing, housing, and housing. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. Thank you so very much, and we look forward to having conversations with you again very soon.

MCLEAN: Thanks so much, George. You take care.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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