Boise CDFI Takes a Neighborly Approach to Affordable Housing

Their community-oriented “pocket neighborhoods” prioritize access to green space, public transit and schools.

A NeighborWorks Boise Pocket Neighborhood (Photo courtesy of NeighborWorks)

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In Boise, Idaho, NeighborWorks prides itself on turning NIMBYs into YIMBYs. The CDFI has taken a unique approach to affordable housing, building what they call “pocket neighborhoods” that are embedded seamlessly into the surrounding community and have access to public transit, schools and green space.

While the organization has been building these communities since 1996, the need has become increasingly urgent according to Mitchell Lee, director of grant development for NeighborWorks. “We’re in the top five least affordable housing markets in the country,” he says.

The pocket neighborhoods consist of highly energy-efficient, single-family homes housed close together around an open space, usually a park or garden. The mixed-income communities usually have no more than 12 homes, allowing neighbors to get to know each other by maintaining their shared green space.

The houses typically cost in the mid-$300,000s. NeighborWorks offers assistance with down payments and other home-buying needs. NeighborWorks has a $5 million line of credit from Community Capital for construction.

The placement of the pocket neighborhoods is strategic as well. They’re typically placed in neighborhoods close to public transportation and schools, but lacking in density. They also pick locations where the pocket neighborhood homes are of a similar value and quality of the surrounding community. The goal is for the pocket neighborhoods is not to stand out, but to blend into the surrounding community and add density “in a way that respects the existing neighborhood,” Lee says.

“We want people to drive by a neighborhood and ask, ‘Which one is the affordable house?’” Lee says. “We want them to be completely baffled by that and not be able to point out if it’s an affordable house. We want houses that look good and are easy to maintain. They’re not just affordable right now, but they stay affordable over the years.”

NeighborWorks holds community meetings with residents of the surrounding community throughout the process, and find that locals are often initially apprehensive of the development, but over time come to change their minds.

“Whenever you’re building, you get a lot of nimbyism, ‘not in my backyard,’ and especially if you say something like affordable housing,” Lee says. “Because everyone thinks it’s going to destroy their home value. It’s going to lead to overcrowding and all that sort of thing.”

NeighborWorks is currently building its 19th pocket neighborhood called Cold Bluff Cottages. Lee says their community-oriented approach has turned many neighbors who were initially apprehensive into avid.

“People who are neighbors of our pocket neighborhoods will sometimes come to these meetings and say: ‘Yup, I see exactly what your concerns are. And I was sitting exactly where you are when they started the pocket neighborhood close to me. And I’m completely 180 degrees from that now. I really support what they’re doing. It’s improved our neighborhood. Taking some homes that were dilapidated and they’ve made some nice neighborhoods.’”

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This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.

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Connie Aitcheson is a freelance writer based between Florida and Kingston, Jamaica. She worked for many years at Sports Illustrated and has been published in Essence, PTSD Journal, Cosmopolitan and espnw.com. 

Tags: affordable housingcdfi futuresboise

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