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could help finance projects with affordable rent

Boise is bringing in an out-of-state firm to help stand up a revolving loan fund for affordable housing. 

On Tuesday, Boise City Council selected New York firm Forsyth Street Advisors to help with a three-phase plan to build a fund focused on creating new housing for low-income Boiseans and preserving existing homes. Boise selected the firm through a competitive bid process over Ketchum-based company Public Advisory Group and Portland-based ECONorthwest. 

An affordable housing loan fund would provide low-interest financing to private or nonprofit developers who need help raising funds to buy or build affordable housing products. The city or the loan itself would not own the housing this money would help create. The fund also would revolve, allowing money paid back from the developers (with interest) to generate a return for investors and help fund future loans. Loans would come with the stipulation that rents remain affordable. 

The City of Boise would seed funds, but it could also contain investments from the private sector and philanthropic donations. 

After each of the three phases, the city would have the option to stop the project entirely or select a new vendor if it chooses. Work on implementing the plan is expected to conclude by August of next year. If all three phases are complete, the study will cost the city an estimated $230,000. 

City council members did not discuss their choice of Forsyth Street at length. Still, council president Elaine Clegg noted they wanted an out-of-state firm to bring in experience currently unavailable in the Gem State. Forsyth was the highest-ranked firm out of the three applicants. 

“Given the importance of this project and the necessity for expertise that may not be in this market, I would move we accept the highest rated proposer…,” she said. 

What are the three phases?

Forsyth will start by studying the feasibility of a fund and then, if it’s feasible, move toward helping set it up. 

Local market study

The first phase, set to begin immediately, will start with a local market study to determine what financing for affordable housing is available in Boise and identify any funding gaps such a fund could fill. During this phase, Forsyth would meet with local developers looking to build affordable projects to determine what barriers they have and how different types of funding from a revolving loan fund could help. 

Structure

If Forsyth gets the go-ahead to start the second phase in December, the firm will develop a proposal for “an appropriate legal and operating structure” for the fund. This likely wouldn’t be operated by the city and instead would be its own nonprofit or a limited liability company connected to an existing organization or something in between. Forsyth will also identify possible funding sources to start building the fund. 

Launch

The third phase, which would begin in April of next year, would include the work of starting up the fund, gathering funding, and launching the lending program. 

Nicki Hellenkamp, Mayor Lauren McLean’s housing advisor, said Forsyth’s experience launching these types of funds in cities nationwide would help bring a bring boost to the city’s effort to consider launching one of its own. She said the layers of financial backing and the complication of it being seeded by city money but funded from various sources brings a “level of financial complexity” the city wanted experts to help unravel. 

“We’re really excited that Forsyth Street applied,” she said. “They do have a lot of expertise doing this other parts of the country, and it’s exciting to be able to explore this, and whether or not it ends up being something we move forward on, we want to make sure we’re exhausting all leads in terms of how we can go about addressing housing affordability.”

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