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Boise, Idaho: Ash+River Townhomes Brings Workforce Housing to the City's Downtown
Boise is the undisputed regional employment hub of Idaho's Treasure Valley, and 22 percent of area jobs are based in the city's 1,013-acre downtown. However, more than half of the people who work in Boise live outside of the city, and of those who are residents, less than 3 percent live downtown. To provide more housing options near the city's underpopulated downtown, Boise's public redevelopment agency, the Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC), selected regional developer deChase Miksis to build Ash+River Townhomes in the historic River Street neighborhood. Ash+River, which opened in 2019, is a mixed-use development that includes 34 workforce housing units. For providing needed downtown workforce housing adjacent to cultural amenities, the project won a Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Award from the Urban Land Institute in 2021.
A New Urban Renewal
The River Street neighborhood in the southern section of Boise's downtown was once a home for working-class immigrants and one of Boise's few African-American neighborhoods. By the 1960s, the area was changing — light industry was encroaching on the single-family homes, properties were falling into disrepair, and residents who could afford to leave were fleeing to the suburbs. Urban renewal projects during the following decade left the downtown and River Street areas peppered with empty lots. In 1996, CCDC established the first of its six modern urban renewal districts, the River-Myrtle Old Boise District, which included this portion of the city's downtown. By this time, the area was primarily vacant land, old industrial properties, warehouses, and the occasional apartment building.
Unlike the urban renewal projects of the 1970s, this new district was planned with input from the community to facilitate a redevelopment that would attract residents and businesses back to River Street and the city center. The plan for the area encourages dense, mixed-use residential buildings affordable to a range of incomes; public art and green spaces; and pedestrian infrastructure — improvements intended to attract workers in the technology, healthcare, and creative sectors, which the plan envisions as drivers of the new economy that can revitalize downtown. CCDC can award five types of assistance to developers of eligible projects undertaken within the district, including the sale of CCDC land for private development.
From 2006 to 2011, CCDC purchased five properties on South Ash Street, just two blocks from the Boise River and its greenbelt, and combined the lots to create the 0.75-acre site for Ash+River. The site is bordered on one side by Kristin's Park, a small municipally maintained space with mature trees. On another side of the site is the neighborhood's lone remaining single-family house, the former home of Erma Hayman, an African-American councilwoman and 61-year resident of River Street. CCDC bought the one-bedroom sandstone house following Hayman's death to preserve the 1907 building as a cultural site. The Hayman House now serves as a museum of the River Street neighborhood and Boise's African-American history. In 2016, CCDC issued a request for proposals to develop workforce housing at the site and selected regional developer deChase Miksis to build Ash+River in 2018.
Missing Middle Housing
Ash+River consists of two 3-story buildings separated by a parking court. The development has 23 townhouses and 11 apartments. The townhouse units have three bedrooms, and the flats are one- and two-bedroom units. Several ground-floor units are accessible to people with disabilities. The development, which features ENERGY STAR® appliances and measures to divert stormwater runoff, received LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Ash+River includes a 500-square-foot commercial space at the intersection of South Ash Street and the Pioneer Pathway that is occupied by the locally owned Push & Pour coffeeshop. The pathway, which CCDC constructed in a phased process that was completed in 2016, is a public trail for pedestrian, bicycle, and scooter traffic between the Boise River Greenbelt and the heart of downtown less than a mile away. The pathway permits quick and pleasant access to destinations such as the Pioneer Neighborhood Community Center.
Ash+River's target tenants are workforce households earning between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income. Housing affordable to people in this income range is often referred to as "missing middle" housing, because it is problematic to finance and therefore is built less often. Although developers of luxury projects can rely on a high rate of return to attract investors to finance their projects and developers of affordable housing can access subsidies, developers of workforce housing cannot access either option. To address this gap, CCDC adopted a preference for workforce housing in its 2015 downtown housing strategy. As Jordyn Neerdaels, communications manager for CCDC, explains, "You really can't have a vibrant downtown without housing options at all price points." CCDC also specified that Ash+River provide units with two or three bedrooms, because few units that can accommodate families exist in the downtown.
Financing for Ash+River Townhomes
Financing for Ash+River resulted from a public-private partnership. deChase Miksis secured private financing from the Idaho Central Credit Union and deferred $476,676 of its developer fee. The firm also raised $1 million in private equity. Regional electricity provider Idaho Power provided a $35,000 grant. Public financing included the city's $34,000 incentive for workforce housing. CCDC contributed nearly $1 million through the River-Myrtle Old Boise District's project assistance. After construction, CCDC reimbursed deChase $645,000 for the cost of the land and $318,000 for public improvements to South Ash Street, Pioneer Pathway, and the Hayman House property. These improvements included trees, benches, lights, curbs, and gutters along the street; utility improvements within the rights-of-way; and a berm to obscure views of the parking spaces from the Hayman House museum.
Table 1: Ash+River Townhomes Financing
|Idaho Central Credit Union||$6,050,000|
|City of Boise||34,000|
|Capital City Development Corporation||963,000|
CCDC's modern urban renewal efforts are restoring vibrancy to the River-Myrtle Old Boise District, and infill residential developments such as Ash+River are helping the neighborhood recover from the previous century's depopulation. At the end of 2019, deChase Miksis opened The Gibson, an 81-unit, market-rate apartment building in the district that also was developed in partnership with CCDC. This project provides 3,000 square feet of retail space as well as Boise's first public pocket park, which includes bocce ball courts. Since the completion of Ash+River, the area has seen more than a dozen streetscape improvements, public art installations, parking projects, and residential developments. Several redevelopment and infrastructure projects will be completed in the near future, including 11th & Lee, a deChase Miksis mixed-use project with market-rate housing.