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Kootenai County group to launch home-sharing program to meet local workforce housing needs

The Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership is launching a home-sharing program to meet demand for local worker housing. Homes in The Trails by Architerra development in northwest Coeur d’Alene are shown here.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership is launching a home-sharing program to meet demand for local worker housing. Homes in The Trails by Architerra development in northwest Coeur d’Alene are shown here. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

With Kootenai County’s median home price now more than half a million dollars, regional employers are grappling with finding housing for their employees while long-term residents are becoming priced out of the market – if they can find a home.

The Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership, a coalition of volunteers and more than 40 advisory groups, is launching a solution to increase availability of affordable housing for local workers through a home-share program.

HomeShare Kootenai County is a program allowing senior citizens and empty nesters with extra space in their homes to earn extra rental income by providing housing to other seniors or local workers.

The home-sharing program, which would be the first of its kind in North Idaho, is slated to launch in 90 days, said Kiki Miller, Coeur d’Alene City Councilwoman.

“(Home-sharing programs) have been done across the country very successfully for decades,” said Miller, who spearheaded formation of the Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership. “Our rental market changed dramatically as well as home prices. Obviously, you can’t keep up with demand, but we did have the ability to look at a national (home-share) template to follow and organize our own home-share program that hasn’t been done in Idaho.”

Kootenai County’s home-sharing program would follow guidelines from the National Shared Housing Resource Center, a network of independent nonprofit home-sharing programs.

There are more than 50 home-sharing programs nationwide, including five in Western Washington, according to the National Shared Housing Resource Center.

Home-sharing is a housing solution to meet the needs of people with varied economic and demographic backgrounds. Homeowners offer space in exchange for rent, help around the house or a combination of both, according to the resource center.

The home-sharing program in Kootenai County would match homeowners and home seekers, conduct background checks, perform occasional check-ins and mediate separation of the agreement, if needed. Homeowners and potential renters would have an option for a trial stay to see if the match would work out, Miller said.

The Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership formed a home-share subcommittee with representatives from ElderHelp of North Idaho, Kootenai Health, the Area Agency on Aging, Community Action Partnership, CDAIDE and United Way.

ElderHelp would initially serve as the nonprofit umbrella for the home-sharing program, which could eventually spin off into its own nonprofit organization, Miller said.

Elderhelp received a $10,000 donation that will pay for the home-sharing program’s start up fees. The organization is also applying for grants that will go toward building a website for homeowners and renters to connect.

While the Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership has received more than a dozen emails from residents inquiring about the home-sharing program, it has not yet signed up any participants because it’s still in the planning stage, Miller said.

“We think there is going to be quite a demand for it, but we want to launch it in a way where it will be successful with initial matches,” Miller said. “We are trying to roll it out in a small capacity to make sure to cross the T’s and dot the I’s.”

The home-sharing program is one of several solutions the Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership is exploring to increase housing affordability and availability in North Idaho, which has experienced an influx of out-of-area buyers and remote workers relocating to the area during the pandemic.

For several years, regional planners have shared resources and communicated about growth management, housing and transportation. But the pandemic brought forth concerns as housing prices spiked due to the uptick in new residents.

The county’s median home price was $535,000 in March, up 21.4% compared to the same time last year, according to data from the Coeur d’Alene Realtors Association.

More than 32,868 people relocated to Kootenai County from 2010 to 2020, resulting an a 23.7% increase in residents and making it the third-fastest growing county in Idaho, according to a recent University of Idaho housing affordability study.

In response, Miller and Hilary Anderson, community planning director for the city of Coeur d’Alene, formed the Kootenai County Regional Housing and Growth Issues Partnership in 2021.

The partnership’s structure includes working and advisory groups, and several subcommittees of volunteers that focus on open space, land acquisition, schools and rentals, among other topics.

“For me, this is a national issue. It isn’t just North Idaho that is feeling this housing crisis,” Miller said. “What we are really trying to do as a team here in Kootenai County is be as proactive as we can and put forward multiple solutions to address this housing crisis.”

The University of Idaho’s housing affordability study indicated that skyrocketing housing prices have made it difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees.

The UI study, released in December, estimated there was 2,700 unfilled jobs in the county and a $200 million loss in gross regional product due to a lack of local worker housing.

Kootenai Health is examining the home-sharing program as a potential option for traveling nurses, according to the partnership group.

Kootenai Health is North Idaho’s largest employer with more than 3,700 workers. It’s facing a workforce shortage partly because of the cost of housing in North Idaho, said Dan Klocko, Kootenai Health’s executive vice president of human resources.

Potential recruits are finding it challenging to afford North Idaho’s high housing costs, or they can’t find a home because of a shortage of available properties, he said. Some out-of-state management recruits are finding their dollars don’t go as far for North Idaho properties and are turning down job offers, he said.

“With a lot of retirees moving in, the need for health care rises,” Klocko said. “That being said, we are going through a pretty difficult time with the labor shortage and we have more openings than we’ve ever had.”

CDAIDE, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial assistance and mentoring to hospitality workers, might consider the program as a place to refer hospitality workers in need of housing.

“By far, housing is the biggest area we support,” Rebecca Gershenson Smith, CDAIDE’s executive director, said. “Over 50% of our clients will be assisted with housing and that number has gone up in terms of percentage of overall assistance.”

A common occurrence among clients over the past year has been the inability to find housing within their budgets. Despite holding a full-time job, some are renting spots in RV parks, living in tents and cars or couch surfing, she added.

“A lot of these people have children, so this has become a really significant problem,” she said.

The hospitality industry, which is an integral part of Coeur d’Alene’s economy, is facing staffing shortages with longtime employees having to move out of the region because of housing issues, she said.

The home-sharing program is one creative solution out of several needed to address North Idaho’s housing crunch, Gershenson Smith said.

“I think it’s something that would people would take advantage of – if the opportunity was there to be able to rent rooms,” she said.

“We absolutely need fast, creative solutions to housing challenges,” she added. “We are not going to be able to build our way out of this, certainly not quickly. We need budget-conscious solutions.”

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