Idaho’s affordable housing issues have the attention of more than just the Governor’s Office. Soaring housing costs and scarce affordable housing options impact school districts across the state. The issue of housing costs is of particular concern for public school districts that work to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, administrators, and classified workers. Workforce housing is a key component of a stable workforce—and according to a survey from the Blaine County school district, things aren’t stable at the moment.

Workforce housing has always been an issue in Blaine County, according to Trustee Dan Turner. But the issue has been super charged due to the pandemic. The district is now seeing staffing shortages despite being one of the county’s largest employers.

“We were struggling to recruit new teachers, and we knew we had a real problem on our hands,” said Turner. Turner and other Blaine County School Board members created a workforce housing taskforce to learn how many staff were being impacted by the cost of housing. They collected 313 completed surveys and hosted several listening sessions with teachers, staff, developers and builders, government representatives, and other stakeholders.

What they found was troubling.

Survey results from staff shared:

  • 73% reported having difficulty finding a home to rent in the past year
  • 60% experienced a monthly rent increase in the last year
  • 83% think that high housing costs negatively impact their long-term ability to stay in the district
  • 97% believe that the high cost of housing negatively impacts the district’s ability to recruit new employees and retain current employees

In October, the Blaine County School District took matters into their own hands and launched a $1 million rental assistance program to help certified and classified staff pay soaring rents in the region. The two-year pilot program titled the Emergency Assistance Employee Housing Program provides a subsidy for eligible staff members who spend 30% or more of their adjusted gross income on rent, utilities, and other relevant housing costs. The pilot program provides housing assistance in the form of a monthly payment for qualified employees. The funds come from their general fund to help subsidize staff member’s housing.

The program offers 25 slots for certified staff and 25 slots for classified staff, reserving 30 slots for incoming applicants.

When asked what happens after the two years, Turner says they are letting the data guide their next steps. For now, they are having long-term conversations with city officials. Turner said the pilot program is a first step in creating solutions to affordable housing.