During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I had the opportunity to do a bit of lobbying with friends in the Legislature on behalf of the Idaho Realtors. The Legislature usually is in full swing by the second week in the session and this year was no different.

I was there to advance a practical piece of legislation, one that is being brought forward by Idaho Realtors — a dynamic option for Idaho’s next generation of homebuyers who face several barriers to home ownership.

On Feb. 11, Idaho Realtors introduced legislation to create first-time homebuyers savings accounts. Deductible limits for individuals are $15,000 a year and $30,000 for a married couple filing jointly.

According to research conducted by Idaho Realtors, more than 94 percent of Idaho renters looking to purchase a home cite the inability to save for a down payment as a major barrier to homeownership. Many of those included in the survey are recent college grads who have been buried by college debt. Nearly 87 percent of Idahoans see a first-time homeowners savings account as a viable option. Idaho’s average age for the first-time buyer is 34 years old. That’s older than the nation average.

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association reports that first-time homebuyers brought 3 percent or less to closing in 2019. Idaho’s next generation is having difficulty saving for the biggest purchase of their lives. They are not saving for what will likely be the best opportunity for them to build their family’s wealth.

With Idaho’s housing market booming, first-time homebuyers are being particularly pressed by record home appreciation and low inventory. This drives the costs of payments up because, without 20 percent down, buyers are forced to pay the high cost of private mortgage insurance. This could be tens of thousands of dollars, money that could be spent elsewhere.

You might ask: Why should this matter?

Homeownership is shown to be a stabilizing force in communities. Children who have stable homes do better in school. Communities of homeowners thrive. They produce jobs. They craft the character of your neighborhood. Pride of ownership is apparent in our neighborhoods. Homeowners contribute greatly to the economy. They buy home insurance, plant grass, trees and flowers. They paint and remodel.

That all has a significant impact on us locally.

Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, ranking in the top three for inbound migration in 2018. With this influx has come a growing home affordability crisis, with home prices growing exponentially during the past decade, putting homeownership increasingly out of the reach of many.

More than one third of Idahoans rent their homes, but seven in 10 renters want to realize the American dream of homeownership.

In Latah County, our prices have risen significantly during the past few years — largely driven by lack of inventory. In Moscow proper last year, there were 30 properties sold for less than $200,000. The average sales price was $171,000.

In the $200,000 to $300,000 range, there were 127 properties sold at an average price of $254,000.

The $300,000 to $400,000 range saw 115 sales at an average of $382,000.

Do any of those numbers sound like first-time home-buyer prices to those of you older than 40?

We need to help and incentivize our next generation to save so they can participate in the great American dream of homeownership.

I’ll be encouraging my elected officials to support this legislation. I hope you will too.

Agidius represented Latah and Benewah counties in the Idaho House. She lives in Moscow.