Addressing a shortage of affordable housing is a significant issue the Moscow City Council wants to address, but defining what affordable means is the council’s first step.

The lack of affordable housing, which creates economic disadvantages, is a major challenge area, or one of the highest prioritized issues determined by the council, City Supervisor Gary Riedner said Tuesday during a Moscow City Council Strategic Planning Workshop.

Bill Belknap, deputy city supervisor of community planning and design, asked how the council wants to define affordable.

“The terminology of affordable housing in my sense really shifts to multi-family (housing) because that is the most affordable housing opportunity traditionally,” he said.

Councilor Art Bettge said affordable housing traditionally meant a single-family home with a yard and its own utilities.

“I don’t think anymore that that can ever, in this town, due to lack of buildable lots and things, constitute affordable,” Bettge said. “I think we have to re-envision what affordable in housing actually means.”

Affordable housing is generally defined as housing in which the occupant pays no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Belknap said the city has worked over the past decade to implement code amendments to increase the efficiency of the use of land and institute a large variety of housing types.

He said Moscow is struggling against the scarcity of land and skilled labor, and the cost of land.

Riedner said, as noted by numerous Realtors and employers, that housing quality and costs are regular deterrents for people like professors and business owners who want to relocate to Moscow. In turn, Moscow loses out on economic development opportunities.

Councilor Gina Taruscio said affordable housing is important only one piece of the housing puzzle. She said high-density housing and other types of housing need to be explored.

“I think it would be wise of us to put our eggs in more than one basket rather than just one area in this housing thing,” Taruscio said.

The council also discussed the need for the city to take action on climate change.

Riedner said climate change science continues to highlight the need for significant attention to making changes in the near term. Policy action at the federal and state level has been nonexistent to date.

In 2010, the city adopted a Moscow Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Energy Efficiency Report committing to achieving a 20 percent reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas levels by the year 2020. Riedner said that goal was achieved.

He said the city is implementing hybrid vehicles for its police department. The plan is to administer electric vehicles for the city fleet when able.

Moscow Environmental Services Manager Kyle Steele said the Moscow Sustainable Environment Commission’s climate action work group is trying to explore climate change impacts and assessments on the community scale instead of in city operations like what is already being done.

“It’s important for us as we move into this realm not to overinvest in current technology or even what we think is coming up,” said Bettge, noting that technology rapidly changes.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

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