Back in 2019 the City of Boise discovered an unethical business practice: landlords were charging unreasonable amounts for rental applications, of which they would receive dozens of for every available property. This created a vested interest for landlords to have high rental application fees while finding a service to do mass background checks for cheap (or only doing them on the one person you are going to pick) and then instead of filling the housing unit, keep rental application fees as the source of income. This creates a situation where landlords aren’t doing anything to benefit our society, including renting out housing. After some discussion, Boise passed a city ordinance capping rental application fees at $30.
Unsurprisingly, the hyper-conservative Idaho House brought forward House Bill 45 of 2021, which would have explicitly undone what Boise did and apply it to the entire state. Amazingly, it was shot down, but only my a narrow margin (8-7). This bill was resurrected the next year in 2022 with House Bill 442. I’d like to take some time to take a look at this bill.
Boise is the most unaffordable city in the United States; a fact which has made national news a couple of times. At the same time, five of the most popular Idaho jobs can’t cover fair market rent.
Let’s go through a scenario:
You are a life-long Idahoan and single parent with 2 kids. You make double minimum wage ($14.50) and work full time. Between food ($722), gas ($100), rent ($1,300), and health insurance ($500) you’re already over $300 in the black if you’re working full-time. Worst of all? Your landlord let you know that they’re increasing rent by 2.5%, which was common for 2021. Since 2017 your rent went up by $500 per month, and now you can’t afford to live in your apartment anymore, so you have to move.
You start pouring your already-limited energy into finding a place for you and your kids to live. However, since you need at at least make $17.36 to afford rent, you don’t qualify many places. You find a dozen places that wont turn you away immediately because of your income. However, since less than 1% of housing units are vacant, landlords are able to charge a rental application fee of $200 for each application. You end up spending more on 7 rental applications than you did on rent the month before in the hopes that a new landlord will pick you.
However, all of your applications were turned down and since you have no where else to go, you have to live with your kids in your car. You can’t afford any more rental application fees until next month, and you pray that one of those 7 applications will get you a dignified place to live.
Then you remember that apartments will need a deposit of a minimum of $700. You realize that you have just fallen into perpetual homelessness, and have no way out, yet are making double “minimum” wage.
This is a lived reality for many in Idaho. Housing is getting more an more expensive and wages aren’t keeping up with this cost of living. Boise took steps to lower the hurdle just a little, but now there are 2 representatives who are trying to undo what Boise did:
Let’s take a quick look at these mens’ lives.
Palmer has always been very well connected politically in Idaho. For example, his father, Chuck Palmer, was the Ada County Sherriff. Palmer himself got into politics and has been supported by the tax payers since 2008. Palmer owns several businesses and has for 20 years. He even lists his favorite hobby as “flying”.
These are not the men that will be the single parent living out of their car because they can’t afford rent or rental application fees. They live very comfortable upper-middle class lives. To put it politely, these men don’t the harm that they’re causing with this bill.
So why are they sponsoring this bill? Well, in his op-ed, Palmer noted that “Idaho has been discovered” and say HB 442 helps “us become freer and more prosperous as more people join us in pursuing the Idaho Dream”.
They realize that Idaho has been positioned as a conservative oasis, and are attracting as many upper-middle class families as they can to Idaho. After all, higher income citizens means their businesses will do better. In the process of attracting this demographic, they are willing displace and sacrifice life-long Idahoan dignity. The single parents living out of their cars aren’t going to feel more free. The people who will are those who are displacing life-long Idahoans to the point that many fear for the future.
The Idahoan government needs to start catering to the needs of its citizens, instead of virtue signaling regarding issues that don’t effect them but will cause very real harm to others. This isn’t sustainable.