Groaning About Upzoning

6/20/2023 Update: The Boise Zoning Code Rewrite passed both the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council unanimously.

3/28/2023 Note: Here’s BoiseDev’s most recent article on the proposed zoning code entitled “Deep Dive: Boise is set to revamp its zoning code. What it means, what it doesn’t, and what’s to come” – Click here for an immersive look at the current proposal with many of the changes the community has requested.

It seems the ongoing, years long discussions by the City of Boise about fixing our outdated and pretty well broken planning and zoning ordinance is creating a lot of angst among the NIMBY crowd, general confusion and some definite misinformation. In my opinion the current zoning code is allowing larger and larger homes to be built in areas where infill was supposed to help create new housing. Instead of more housing we’re actually seeing population dropping as larger homes are being created with fewer inhabitants. And the current code is being abused in areas like our historic neighborhoods at an unprecedented rate.

Visit the City of Boise page “A Modern Zoning Code” by clicking here.

It also seems to me the facts about zoning and the new, proposed zoning code aka right-zoning and upzoning is being misrepresented in some ways and has become overshadowed by agendas that aren’t directed at solving our housing, unhoused (homeless) and affordability problems. It appears, at least at times, the same people are simultaneously supporting zero growth, and zero responsibility in order to achieve some obscure political advantage.

It is my intention to level this up and propose better zoning. You may even call it “upzoning”.

Check out the latest “Storymap” side by side comparison of the proposed and existing zoning which you can explore by clicking here.

North End Housing Narrative

According to multiple sources and references like the Sightline Institute, “upzoning” is specifically geared to create more affordable housing where it is needed. In Boise’s case that would hopefully be in areas of town near employment centers like downtown, Micron and the Idaho State complex on Chinden; Boise State and the College of Western Idaho (Boise campus) when it gets built. This type of development would also reduce the impact of transportation needs which, in turn, would reduce the need for surface parking. It’s a positive ripple effect as we work toward more equity in housing.

On the other hand, one of the arcane arguments against “upzoning” is, it will create a “mega lower class” of renters. This sounds to me like, an effort to keep poor people out of NIMBY neighborhoods. The North End has never been a NIMBY neighborhood and it is more urban than suburban. That’s not to say there aren’t NIMBY forces at work here, but our unique culture provides for opportunity for all and diversity in everything.

Most of us know not everyone wants to own a home and, in the case of the North End, around 45% of our housing is occupied by renters. Of that over 1/4 are single moms. Detractors will tell you Northenders “say” they support low-income housing in principle but not in practice. That’s despite the fact there are upwards of 1,000 Section 8 and below market rate rentals in and around our neighborhood. And, as of 2021, 60% of all new accessory dwelling units (ADUs) built in the last five years were constructed in the North End**.

And those same folks will try to tell you that housing equity is about race not income levels, which makes no sense whatsoever. It seems to surprise some people the North End neighborhood’s median household income comes in about 15th in the city – about the middle of the pack. And race is likely a factor in areas like Boise’s Liberty Park neighborhood where there’s a 36% minority population compared to a neighborhood like the Highlands that has a 9% minority rate**.

The Case for New Zoning Laws

If you want to do something creative about the cost of housing, ensure people have opportunities to have their kids educated in our schools and not been driven out, then “upzoning” may be a good way to start the conversation. It may be the North End is an existing example of what an upzoned neighborhood would look like with our cool, eclectic mix of housing types – single family homes, duplexes, apartment complexes – that work for a variety of income levels. It also doesn’t hurt architects like Hummel and Tourtellotte (the architects of the Idaho Capitol and TRICA) also designed apartment properties like the T.J. Jones Apartments on Fort Street. Great architecture makes up for higher density land uses in my mind.  

I’m convinced Boise’s version of upzoning, when enacted, will be with tons of citizen input and objective thinking instead of relying on quick and easy negative memes designed to vilify those who want to find solutions.

Check out this video that got me started toward understanding how changing zoning can help alleviate the housing crisis in Boise.

Upzoning Intro from Sightline Institute

Cities and towns make choices about what types of homes can be built, and where. These choices can push prices up and limit rental options. In fact, outdated zoning laws have put up invisible walls around our cities. We call it exclusionary zoning; laws that reserve half or even three-quarters of the residential land in most cities for only the most expensive kind of homes.

Zoning isn’t all bad; it keeps industrial areas away from where people live and can support thriving business centers. But zoning choices can do harm, too. We have a long, ugly history of zoning laws that segregated neighborhoods by race and class. Guess what? Today’s exclusive zoning laws are segregating our cities, too, walling off neighborhoods for only the biggest houses on big lots. This is commonly referred to as “exclusionary zoning“.

We can take down the invisible walls that shut away the promise and opportunity of our cities. We have a key to unlock access to our centrally-located, convenient neighborhoods. The solution: upzoning. It means revamping our zoning laws so that more neighborhoods allow a healthy mix of homes of all shapes and sizes.

To read the unedited version of “Invisible Walls” click here. For more from Sightline Institute on Housing and Urbanism click here.

Exclusionary Housing Pitfalls

 (Reprinted from “Exclusonary Zoning Robs Our Cities of Their Best Qualities” on Seattle’s HALA findings)

A large and growing body of empirical research has now demonstrated that Seattle-style housing limits cause unexpected, unintended harms. They radically inflate housing costs, segregate neighborhoods by class, displace longstanding residents by pricing them out of their rented homes, amplify economic disparities between rich and poor, eliminate opportunities for working people to improve their lots in life, trap poor children in poverty, bar the doors to good schools for those who most need public education, reduce society’s overall prosperity, and push more people into homelessness. 

Here are the academic findings from the Seattle Housing and Lieability Agenda (HALA)

  1. Tight regulations radically inflate housing costs
  2. Housing restrictions segregate neighborhoods by class
  3. Tight housing regulations kill opportunity
  4. Restrictive zoning keeps good schools out of reach of those who most need them
  5. Housing supply restrictions price people out of their neighborhoods
  6. Exclusionary zoning increases homelessness
  7. Housing restrictions make everyone poorer
  8. Exclusionary regulations on housing widen income inequality

For the complete article and more info – click here.

Boise’s Adare Apartments

Supply and Demand Data

A 2019 study by the Upjohn Institute showed that 100 units of market-rate housing in central cities create 70 new vacancies at below-median rents and 39 vacancies at rents in the bottom fifth. The study is a very new and a first in many ways for understanding housing and rental market dynamics. For an in depth data analysis click on the Upjohn Institute study titled “The Effect of New Market-Rate Housing on the Low-Income Housing Market“.

The “Missing Middle” Pro’s and Con’s

According to some experts there’s a thing in housing called the “missing middle”. Neighborhoods like ours seem to represent “the missing middle” in American housing, say many architects and planners – not a big subdivision, not a high-rise apartment tower, but a middle option in terms of scale and density. When you consider the North End and our mix of homes of all sizes and style, rentals from homes to apartment buildings, the idea kind of makes sense.

They contend that “missing middle” architecture could ease rents — and allow more Americans to build real estate wealth. They say If we had a richer variety of housing options, we might be able to solve a number of problems. I looked around and found a “pro” and a “con” argument to explore the idea. I settle in with the pro argument because it enforces what I already know – we have strong city leadership and have had for decades. That is a must for the “missing middle” to work IMHO.

Pro: Daniel Parolek is an architect and urban planner in Berkeley, California at a small firm called Opticos Design. He’s a well-known “New Urbanist” who worked for Robert A.M. Stern, collaborated with Leon Krier and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk writing form-based codes for cities around the country. He’s credited with the idea of recreating the middle tier housing that was common prior to World War II. Here’s his story – click here.

Con: “an obsession with heedless rezoning residential neighborhoods for so-called ”missing middle’ housing poses a real risk of making a bad situation even worse. Andrew Dobbs sees the issues of the housing crisis through the lens of a housing advocate. He says “the whole thing really is very simple: commercial real estate is valuable because it makes the people that own it money.” Read more by clicking here

Boise State Policy Polling and City of Boise References

The most recent Boise State public policy poll and survey found that the top priority for the legislature should be education, followed by jobs/economy, housing, healthcare, taxes, the environment, and transportation. Very few people aren’t concerned with Idaho’s growth with Boise being among the most concerned areas of the state. It’s clear that the Idaho legislature is off on a tangent when comparing Idahoan’s concerns to the legislation they’re focused on. Very little about property taxes, nothing to help working parents, environment or transportation. For more about the survey from BoiseDev with links to Boise State – click here.

City of Boise 2021 Housing Needs Analysis

The City of Boise contracted with a multidisciplinary consulting firm based in Anchorage, Alaska named Agnew::Beck to analyze the supply and demand for housing in Boise. Results from the analysis are being used by the city to help inform citizens and “to inform policy decisions that impact housing development and preservation as well as specialized populations most affected by the housing crisis.”

** A summary of the City of Boise’s housing analysis key findings and key opportunities to consider as it contemplates planning and zoning policy decisions and strategic next steps is included on the city website – click here.

A PDF version of the 2021 City of Boise Housing Needs and Analysis is available by clicking here.

City of Boise’s Neighborhood Data Almanac is available by clicking here.


Like many issues the City of Boise has undertaken through it’s leadership over the past 30 years or so, a zoning rewrite was bound to bring out objections both well-founded and obstructionist. To me most well-founded and logical objections, are intended to add to the civic process rather than detract. I find it curious that the intentional (or unintentional) consequences of actions by a minority of citizens who pushed city council districting, as an example, may unwittingly be fueling some of the affordability issues they say new zoning will cause – click here for and analysis. I also think it is important to keep the role of the right wing Idaho legislature has in all of this in sharp focus. Idaho statutes control land use planning more than many people may realize. It’s good to be aware of what the code covers – start with Section 67-6508 by clicking here.

I personally think our local city elected officials have no ulterior motives for fixing a broken system other than to produce positive outcomes for our city’s citizens. And to be certain, especially in these odd and trying times, I implore everyone to be wary of any group or groups that rely on or repeat anything produced by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and other so-called “free market” groups. They simply cannot be trusted to be impartial and objective. Do your own research.

Belgravia Building – originally apartments
Friedline Apartments on State Street

Post written by Dave Green : Tw @thenorthend.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Heinrich Wiebe says:

    Who’s the author of this?

    1. Dave says:

      A link to my info is at the bottom of the post. Here is is for your convenience.

  2. C Galdos says:

    Editor’s note: If this was Facebook or Twitter this comment would be tagged for misinformation. The commenter has also been banned from Facebook groups for spreading misinformation and aggressive behavior. Do your own research.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    You would find very few people that would turn down ownership of their living space and a finite mortgage vs an infinite amount of rent payments, ever-escalating. The current ZCR, as written, will depress construction of owner-occupied units at the highest level of density because it limits initial Return On Investment (to satisfy the “affordable housing” claim,) whereas Return on Investment for rental units, even on those carved out for people making 80 percent of median income, is limitless. In addition, purpose-built rentals like apartment buildings are permanent rentals. Those mega-complexes are carving an ever-bigger share of housing income, here. Market-rate rentals are quasi-transient, with fluctuation that does destabilize neighborhoods. Mega low-income apartment complexes concentrate poverty, which also destabilizes neighborhoods. The language regarding shelters is euphemistic and purposely confusing, leaving a wide variety of shelter types and sizes, right up to low-barrier shelter of hundreds of beds for high-risk single adults, a by-right use of property with no public hearings or examination of adverse impacts allowed except by permission of a city-hired “examiner.” How likely is that to happen, as the city has already shown itself ready to bend over backwards to approve the Interfaith Sanctuary CUP at a hotly-contested location?. A hard NO to the ZCR, as written; with no real provisions to guarantee more affordable housing, especially the gold-standard of societal stability, owner-occupied, and no guarantee of limiting sprawl, which requires specific, encoded policies Treasure-Valley wide. This ZCR actually downgrades some zoning and protections for large areas of open space. It is a boon for developers, but a bust for everyone else, especially the democratic process.

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