Affordable homes are essential for a thriving Idaho. Yet many Idaho families are finding it harder to obtain an affordable home as growth in rent prices outpace growth in paychecks and folks continue to move to our state. Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo understands that Congress can help make sure that affordable homes are available to more families in our state.

Last month, Sen. Crapo released an outline for legislation that would help states like Idaho tackle what is arguably the fastest growing problem we face today:  a rapidly tightening rental market combined with a lack of affordable units being built. Sen. Crapo’s proposal to increase access to affordable homes acknowledges the magnitude of the affordability crisis here and across the country and proposes good solutions. Policymakers would do well to follow his lead.

Idaho faces a nearly 30,000-unit shortage in affordable and available rental units for renters of modest means. In over 80 percent of Idaho’s counties, the average renter’s wages aren’t enough to afford a two-bedroom rental. Further, only one out of the top five most common Idaho occupations pay wages that support an affordable rental home. In particular, Idahoans with disabilities, seniors living on fixed incomes, and families with children are facing increased barriers to finding affordable places to live.

Sen. Crapo’s outline draws from similar legislation he championed in 2014 to address this crisis. That bill would have appropriated $3.5 billion annually to the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The NHTF is a proven solution that exists to establish public-private partnerships that build, expand and rehabilitate affordable units for rent.

The $3.5 billion would be an increase of nearly 13 times what is currently appropriated to the fund, drastically improving the ability for states like Idaho to build affordable homes. The previous bill, which garnered broad bipartisan support, also proposed reforming public housing finance enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack. 

Sen. Crapo consistently demonstrates leadership on issues related to housing affordability and increasing resources for Idaho renters.  Last year, he sponsored a bill that included provisions permanently protecting tenants against foreclosure of their rental homes and also expanded the Family Self-Sufficiency program.  The recently released outline continues the important work he first introduced in 2014 and establishes a meaningful starting point in addressing the challenge of ensuring access to affordable homes.

We know what the stakes are when homes are beyond reach for working families. The unaffordability of homes has contributed to the 64 percent spike in homelessness among schoolchildren.

The proposal should be met with broad support from all parts of Idaho’s economy - including healthcare, education and economic development – especially as new research strongly links affordable homes to positive outcomes for each of those sectors. Idaho’s long-term economic vitality depends in large part on our ability to ensure every Idahoan has an affordable place to live, and the success of Senator Crapo’s proposal is instrumental to making that a reality.

Josh Scholer is a policy associate at Idaho Voices for Children and will begin law school at the University of Idaho in the fall.