Idaho rents outpace wages

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Hundreds of units are going up at The Northern At Coeur d’Alene Place next to Lake City High School off Ramsey Road.

Rents exceed wages in a majority of Idaho cities and counties, a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found Tuesday.

Fair-market rent in Idaho for a two-bedroom apartment is $804, the study concluded. Experts consider this level of rent “affordable” for households earning $15.47 per hour, assuming a 40-hour week and a 52-week year, which implies an annual income of $32,178.

The median household income in Kootenai County, according to the Census Bureau, is $53,189. The county’s per capita income is $28,275.

While that suggests renters here have no trouble writing a check to their landlords, this data understates the situation given the area’s relative affluence, which skews the averages higher. While this presents few problems for renters at the top end of the scale, it is decidedly problematic at the lower end. The gap between income and housing costs dramatically impacts the working poor.

Counties across the Gem State are experiencing a shortage of rental properties available to “extremely low income” households. These are defined as families whose incomes are at or below federal poverty guidelines.

Nearly 190,000 people in Idaho rent the property they live in. An Idaho resident working at minimum wage — $7.25 per hour, or $15,080 per year­ —would need to work 67 hours a week to afford an average one-bedroom rental. For a two-bedroom, a worker would have to put in 85 hours a week.

“Where we live shapes our lives forever, from health to access to good jobs and schools,” said Alejandra Cerna Rios, policy director at the Idaho Asset Building Network. “But high rents in Idaho leave working families with little left over for basic needs and few options for getting ahead. Our leaders need to make sure that good, affordable homes and other critical resources are available not only in a few desirable neighborhoods but in all communities, large and small, rural and urban and suburban.”

Coeur d’Alene ranked fourth among the state’s most-expensive rental real-estate markets. The area comprises 58,873 households, 29 percent of which are rentals. A worker would need to make $16.35 per hour — or roughly $34,000 a year — to afford a two-bedroom home in Coeur d’Alene.

Cashiers, janitors, cooks, substitute teachers, retail salespeople and personal care aides are among the workers who make less than the necessary $12.05 required to afford a one-bedroom home, the National Low Income Housing Coalition found.

Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty agent Michael Ward said the prices in Idaho, specifically Coeur d’Alene, are increasing because of demand stemming from the state’s rapid growth. The latest Census Bureau data ranks Idaho first nationwide in terms of growth, with a 2.2 percent annual population increase recorded from 2016 to 2017.

“All the health care in the area, and high increase in retirees — that’s why all these people are coming up,” Ward said. “They are leaving states where they can’t afford to pay the taxes as well.”

Ward is a member of CDA 2030, a group trying to create a brighter future for Coeur d’Alene. He said the group has discussed housing and rental issues but notes that the only way to build is up ­— which would also increase population density. Some residents oppose these sort of deveopments, fearing they will change the landscape and way of life.

Ward said the local market had a lack of inventory for affordable single-family homes.

“Affordable housing is a major topic of concern and consideration,” Ward said. “There is a high growth rate in all of our communities around Kootenai County. It’s everywhere.”

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