If you already live in the Coeur d’Alene area, especially if you have lived here for more than about five years, it can be pretty easy to be amazed, and perhaps a little dismayed, by how much the region has grown. It is obvious to even a casual observer that there has been a large influx of new residents, including many who have moved here from out-of-state.
The result of this population increase are some not-so-welcome effects: more traffic, new construction filling up previously vacant land, more crowded public spaces and stores. But as much as some residents could wish things were different, the fact is, we cannot hold back the tide, or hope that things will go back to the way they were just a few years ago. Instead, the best way forward is to make sure that the changes result in a net positive for the region.
One of the most pressing problems created by this influx, though, is not the traffic. It is that Kootenai County does not have enough housing to meet the demand of those who want to live here. This has caused housing prices to soar and, while some local homeowners might be pleased at their increase in equity, it is making it harder for both locals and newcomers to find affordable housing.
This is a more serious problem than you might imagine. While some people might think, “Good, that will stop more people from moving here,” the reality is that when people cannot find housing here, local businesses have trouble hiring. Young people who grew up here and who want to branch out on their own, as well as newcomers who are seeking to relocate, will usually first look for a job. And while there are many jobs available with local businesses, there is not enough housing in the area that is compatible with the wages that are being offered.
Our local businesses need these workers. The problem is so acute that a working group, called the Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership was created by local stakeholders. The group has characterized the local housing problem as a “crisis”, noting that over 2500 jobs have been lost in the region, translating to a loss of over $220 million in gross regional product.
While there may be different aspects of this problem that need to be addressed, there is no escaping the basic fact that new housing is really the key to solving this problem. When there is sufficient housing, there is competition for tenants or buyers. This competition means that rental rates and housing prices will go down, and local businesses will be able to thrive. And when businesses thrive, they can pay their workers well, leading to an overall increase in the quality of life for all local residents.
The fact is, statistics from rent.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that, in Idaho overall, wage increases have kept pace with rent increases, leaving workers with an overall net surplus in disposable income over the past year. However, Kootenai County is still facing a net deficit of housing supply, which means that building new housing must be encouraged. There are a number of multi-family and single-family home projects underway in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene, and current vacancy rates indicate that these developments should have little or no difficulty finding buyers or tenants. As the local market reaches an equilibrium, the housing market will sort itself out and developers will slow down to avoid depressing prices to the point of losing profitability.
Factors That Have Given Rise to the Housing Shortage
The current situation in Kootenai County has several contributing factors.
First, Kootenai County is an idyllic location: it is within easy distance of a major airport, it possesses great natural beauty, and its outdoor recreational opportunities are hard to match. Recent publicity in nationwide publications has brought even more attention to the region, making Coeur d’Alene both a vacation destination as well as a relocation destination for many people who may not even have known of the city’s existence just 10 years ago.
Second, the Covid pandemic – or, rather, state government reactions to the Covid pandemic – caused an unprecedented amount of interstate migration in the U.S. Many people decided to flee states with draconian restrictions, and the shift to telecommuting freed a lot of workers from their brick-and-mortar offices. Idaho is one of the states that has experienced a significant in-migration as a result.
Third, the housing slump back in 2009-2010 still has lingering effects. When housing builds stopped, many local contractors and subcontractors went out of business. A few years ago, the area started to see a “comeback”, but it has been difficult for the building business to ramp up, and new builds have not kept pace with demand. For local builders, business is good: schedules are booked. But their rates are high – not because they are greedy, but because they need to hire and retain good workers, who are scarce. Add that to supply chain problems for building material, and you will find that houses cannot be built fast enough to keep pace with demand. All of these factors also make new builds pricey.
River’s Edge Helps Address the Housing Shortage, While Still Providing a Recreational Resource
Local city governments already recognize that a key aspect of protecting and promoting the economic vitality of the region is to encourage the creation of affordable housing. And while high-end homes will always have a market here, what the region really needs is housing for younger and lower-income individuals and families. Multi-family housing thus becomes a necessary component of the city’s housing priorities.
Over the past few years, the City of Coeur d’Alene, in recognition of this need, has approved several multi-family housing projects. One of them is River’s Edge, an apartment complex being built along the Spokane River, west of Atlas Road and east of the U.S. Bank call center. This property is an ideal location for apartments, providing prospective residents with convenient access to employment in all areas in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene.
While some local residents may not like the idea of more riverfront development, new proposed plans for this development should be welcome. River’s Edge is currently seeking a change to its approved land use plan which would eliminate the single-family homes that were slated to occupy the river frontage, and instead create a 40-foot wide public access area with a walking/biking trail, seating areas, picnic tables, and beach access. River’s Edge hopes that the new overall plan, while filling some of the housing needs of the area, will also create a welcome recreational destination for its apartment tenants as well as other local residents.
For further information about the proposal being presented to the City of Coeur d’Alene, please review the information and maps on this website. We hope you will support our proposal and encourage the City of Coeur d’Alene to adopt the new plan.