GRANGEVILLE — A training and technical assistance program being rolled out over the next few months will help local communities develop ideas and resources to expand broadband capabilities and affordable housing.

Christine Frei and Angela Edwards-Kuskie of the Clearwater Economic Development Association Inc. said the program is funded by a $150,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Community Development Initiative, $90,000 from the Avista Corp. Pass-Through Fund and matching dollars from CEDA and Panhandle Area Council membership.

“There’s just this huge lack of affordable housing and housing that reflects the needs of our community,” Edwards-Kuskie said. “The purpose of those funds is to provide training to local elected officials, staff and community stakeholders to increase our capacity to make decisions about their community.”

Local towns participating in the program include Cottonwood, Culdesac, Grangeville, Kamiah, Kendrick, Kooskia, Nezperce, Potlatch, Riggins, Stites, White Bird and Winchester.

The program is building on the work that is already being done in several of these communities to assess affordable housing options and expand the potential for new housing. In some cases, vacant housing exists, but it is old and in poor shape and not habitable. Besides trying to find ways to attract developers to build new housing, Frei and Edwards-Kuskie said, some of the focus will be on assessing whether substandard housing can be brought up to current safety standards and become livable again.

“We’re not trying to duplicate those efforts (communities are already doing to expand housing options), but to elevate the issue to a regional level and talk about what we can do to look at the overall trend of housing and increase the supply of housing,” Edwards-Kuskie said.

Making these improvements now, she added, will affect the economic development of the area, because workers will need affordable housing within the communities where they work or within commuting distance from their workplaces.

Frei and Edwards-Kuskie have already begun meeting with several city governments to explain their proposals and get feedback about what communities’ needs are.

Frei said sometimes the leadership in small communities has a “hands-off” approach to housing because it is believed house ownership or rentals are private business.

“The reality is, they can help to drive development and drive change within their communities to meet their housing needs,” Frei said. “We’re trying to give them information and tools that make that easier. Because they can do things to drive the conversation, elevate the issues and set policies that encourage housing development.”

One of the challenges in agricultural communities, she added, is a lack of land that can be used for housing expansion because of the agricultural land surrounding a town.

Some communities might consider reducing lot size to allow for more homes, such as tiny houses that can be located closer together.

The program also will help communities look at other places dealing with some of the same problems. McCall, for instance, is involved in finding housing options for a growing workforce. Community leaders there are considering “container housing and different options to make it so people can live and work in the community and don’t get priced out or get extremely long commutes. These are wonderful people who would like to be a part of your community but can’t find housing or can’t find housing in their price range.”

“We got here over lots of years, and it’s going to take time to change things,” Frei said. “It really takes some major drivers and a public-private partnership, too. That’s really important.”

Frei and Edwards-Kuskie currently are focusing on expanding the broadband training in communities and anticipate the workshops to discuss housing may begin early next year. They are open, however, to providing technical assistance on housing issues now. Anyone seeking more information may contact Frei and Edwards-Kuskie at the CEDA office at (208) 746-0015.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

Recommended for you