For years, Pastor Joseph Bankard from the Collister United Methodist Church hoped to put the extra land on his church’s property to good use.
He and his colleagues had talked about turning the outgrown plot of land into a garden, parking spaces and possibly a picnic area. His goal was to create a space to support the needs of the Boise community.
Then, one of Bankard’s parishioners put him in touch with Bart Cochran, the CEO of LEAP Housing. After discussing a potential housing project on the church’s property, Bankard agreed to partner with LEAP Housing to build two homes for Boise families.
Three months into construction, the homes are close to completion. But the faith-based affordable housing development project is just getting started. The project comes at a time when home prices are increasingly out of reach of Treasure Valley families. In June 2022, the median sales price for single family homes in Ada County stood at $592,090 — 12.8% higher than June 2021.
The affordable housing crisis is not going away. It is only getting worse. Faith communities have the freedom to use their land to live out their mission.
– Pastor Joseph Blankard
The construction site makes up a quarter of an acre of the Collister United Methodist Church property. The project, named Taft Homes, includes housing units of three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes with a garage.
The church will lease its land to LEAP Housing for $1 a year for 50 years, and the property will house two Boise households who earn at or below 30% area median income. LEAP Housing and the church have partnered with CATCH, a Boise nonprofit whose mission is to end homelessness, to place families in the new homes upon completion.
Creating a space for affordable housing was not initially on the church’s radar.
The church does not have the funds or expertise to conduct a housing project, but the congregation recognized housing as the biggest need for Boise residents, Bankard said.
“We are in a housing crisis,” he said. “I know many people struggling to find housing. Being part of a church, there’s always people looking for help with their housing.”
Despite working full-time, with no pets or a criminal record, individuals and families from the community have stayed at the church for extended periods of time because of housing issues, he said.
“We are a small church, and we did not have to pay anything out of pocket to get this done,” Bankard said. “Other groups can do the same. It’s feasible, and I think it is a moral obligation for religious folks. We are called to provide help and aid to those who are hurting. Housing is not the only way, but it is one powerful way.”
LEAP launches Yes in God’s Backyard (YIGBY) affordable housing campaign
LEAP housing is a Boise-based nonprofit whose mission is to “develop and preserve affordable housing while providing empowering services that lead to greater housing stability.”
The board of directors recently passed the organization’s strategic plan to create and preserve 1,000 housing units in Idaho by 2026.
“Before we were just strictly in the Treasure Valley,” Moers said. “Now, we are in contact with groups from over half of Idaho counties. We are trying to create as many housing opportunities as we can so that Idahoans can stay in Idaho and not have to move because of rising house prices.”
In their efforts to provide affordable housing, LEAP Housing launched a “Yes in God’s Backyard” campaign. The campaign focuses on partnering with different faith-based communities in Idaho to turn underutilized land into affordable housing.
The campaign launched as the nonprofit conducted an informal study, finding that churches in the Treasure Valley have enough underutilized land between them to eclipse the Boise State University campus.
The name of the YIGBY campaign is a twist on NIMBY, or “not in my backyard,” a derogatory phrase for homeowners who are resistant to new developments in their area.
To better understand that sentiment in a neighborhood, the LEAP Housing team engages in regular conversations with residents about their concerns with the placement of affordable housing before construction.
“We knock on doors and listen to folks. People living in affordable housing do not bring crime,” Zeb Moers said, the operations and outreach manager for LEAP housing. “They’re employed, but their wages just cannot keep up with the housing market.”
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While LEAP Housing is not religiously affiliated, their YIGBY campaign pursues partnerships with any faith community interested in creating affordable housing solutions. Collister United Methodist Church is the first religious organization to contribute to the construction of affordable housing units in the Treasure Valley.
“My goal is to encourage as many faith communities to consider using excess land to build affordable housing,” Bankard said. “The affordable housing crisis is not going away. It is only getting worse. Faith communities have the freedom to use their land to live out their mission.”