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Gov. Little says Internet expansion could help housing crisis


Turkeys roost on a fence next to a cemetery in the hills above Orofino, a small town along the scenic Clearwater River in North Idaho that Gov. Brad Little cites as a place where people who can work remotely could move to avoid the high cost of housing in the Boise area.

Turkeys roost on a fence next to a cemetery in the hills above Orofino, a small town along the scenic Clearwater River in North Idaho that Gov. Brad Little cites as a place where people who can work remotely could move to avoid the high cost of housing in the Boise area.

A good Internet connection may prove crucial to helping Idahoans find housing that is more affordable, Gov. Brad Little says.

During a virtual breakfast meeting with members of the Idaho Press Club, Little on Wednesday said people who can work remotely have the chance to move outside a costly population center such as the Boise area and find housing that is more reasonably priced.

“Obviously, one of the things we need to do is to have more smart growth and housing in the right areas,” Little said, speaking by Zoom. “As we work on our quest for more broadband and better roads, that means that growth can be dispersed out into areas that have lost a major employer, or existing employers have modernized and are using less help.”

The last time housing was a lot more affordable, Little said, was after the Great Recession in 2008.

“We had a lot of people out of work then, and that is not one of the solutions that I want now,” he said.

In January 2007, the median price for a home sold in Ada County was $220,120, according to the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service. By January 2009, it had fallen to $183,000. Median prices continued to dip until bottoming out at $134,900 in January 2011.

Last month, the median price was more than three times that, $454,000, another record in a long list of record prices in the past few years. The median rose $19,100 in just one month. A Meridian home profiled by the Idaho Statesman sold for $1.05 million, more than twice what the owner paid for it three years earlier, when it was new.

Little said one of his goals as governor has been to have the state’s children choose to stay here after they graduate from high school, and to encourage the ones who left to return home.

He said Caldwell has begun to attract companies that require a lot of labor. In the past, most such businesses normally would locate in Meridian or Boise, he said.

“That’s good, because it’s on the other end of the most expensive ribbon of highway we have in the state, and people are not having to commute,” Little said.

While Canyon County homes are also setting records, the median price is more than $100,000 less than in Ada County.

Recently, Orofino was able to extend high-speed Internet to two-thirds of the Clearwater County town after obtaining a grant of money provided to Idaho by the federal CARES Act, the big coronavirus pandemic relief law Congress passed one year ago. He said that’s important to give workers who don’t need to be in a particular city a way to move to less expensive areas.

“That’s taking place all over the state of Idaho,” Little said. “And that’s one of the best ways we can help these local communities.”

Orofino, located 44 miles east of Lewiston, has a population of about 3,100. It’s the largest city within the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. The median home price in Clearwater County is $194,800, according to Realtor.com.

“Let’s look at all the options to get that broadband out, because basically that’s a tool that people need to have for education, commerce, quality of life and particularly for the growing field of telehealth, which we’ve expanded by 4,000% in Idaho,” Little said.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.





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