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Idaho

Selkirk REALTORS® Protect Quality of Life in Bonners Ferry

The scenic city of Bonners Ferry, Idaho,is taking careful steps to avoid becoming a victim of its own success. To preserve the high quality of life that attracts many visitors and would-be residents, it has spent several years developing a Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Plan that will foster the compact growth of its community, while encouraging walking and biking in and around town. Coming to the table with Smart Growth Action Grants, together with considerable knowledge and understanding of its own, the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® has become an important partner in the creation of a robust pedestrian/bicycle mobility plan for the area.

The plan, explains Stephanie Rief, Association Executive of the 246-member association, is for a pedestrian/bicycle network providing safe and convenient routes that both meet current demand and encourage even more usage. Idaho Smart Growth was the organization commissioned to create the plan, which integrates walking and biking routes into the master plan for roadway transportation. “The walk/bike plan includes routes in all parts of town, connections and safe crossings and access to destinations, as well as clear network branding and directional signage,” says Rief. “This will improve access to active transportation options, and help stimulate economic development related to bike tourism,” she adds. “By increasing the walkability and bike-ability within Bonners Ferry, we are also creating opportunity and purpose for improved housing in the city.”

The Selkirk Association of REALTORS® has actually received three Smart Growth Action Grants for the complex project, one for each of the three preparatory phases of the plan. The first two grants supported initial planning, drafting, and a site visit. This most recent grant helped to fund Phase 3, which included branding, wrap-up, and a kick-off, seeing the plan through initial stages of implementation. Although Rief has completed many grant applications on behalf of her association, she reached out to the state association, Idaho REALTORS®, for guidance applying for the grant: “Because of its importance, and because it was the first large Smart Growth grant our association had applied for, I felt that it would be nice to have that added expertise of their staff grant writer,” she explains. “The application process was actually fairly simple,” she notes, adding that the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® encourages its fellow small associations to take advantage of the REALTOR® Party’s grant programs. “The support of the REALTOR® Party has helped us to build the relationships that build our community!”

REALTOR® members were actively involved at many levels of the plan’s development, from being interviewed about existing conditions, to attending public meetings, to serving on a pedestrian bicycle advisory group.

“Being a part of this project has helped the REALTOR® community establish itself as a trusted, knowledgeable, and caring partner,” says Rief. “It’s allowed us to work more closely with the Mayor of Bonners Ferry, the City Administrator, and the Boundary County Economic Developer. They are all grateful for the help of the National Association of REALTORS®, as well as the Selkirk Association of REALTORS®, towards this amazing accomplishment. REALTORS® are now often involved in city and county economic projects that they wouldn’t necessarily have been invited to engage in before. It has been a turning point for everyone involved and we look forward to future civic collaboration.”

To learn more about how the Selkirk Association of REALTORS® is making sure walking and biking is built into the fabric of the Bonners Ferry community, contact Association Executive Stephanie Rief at 208-265-2227.

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Sun Valley Board Help Veterans with a Housing Opportunity Grant

 Sun Valley, Idaho has a population of about 21,000. According to the latest census information, that includes roughly 1,500 military veterans, nearly all of whom live below the poverty line. Through the REALTORS® for Veterans program, Sun Valley REALTORS® are providing assistance ranging from finding housing and rent relief to repairs, alterations, and maintenance. A REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant is helping them reach those who need them most.

Amanda Ornelas is Executive Officer of the 320-member Sun Valley Board. She explains that the small mountain community has a high cost of living, and although there’s an Air Force base about two hours away and a training ground for Navy Seals nearby, no real veterans’ services operate in the area. The pride that comes with having served in the armed forces makes it hard for many veterans to seek help, she notes: “Again and again, we hear about individuals who are struggling with housing, but unwilling to admit it. We know there are veterans living quietly, less visibly – camping, even – who need a leg up. If anyone’s going to do something about their housing needs, it’s going to be the REALTORS®.”

The Sun Valley Board has its own charitable foundation, Sun Valley REALTORS® Give, and in 2016 it established the REALTORS® for Veterans program, which it first funded through a 5K race. This year, the board registered the program with the annual IDAHO Gives Day, a statewide online fundraiser for non-profits, which brought in more than $16,000. “Far more income for far less effort than organizing a 5K!” laughs Ornelas. The REALTORS® for Veterans fund was set to provide assistance with rent and deposits, and also supported an annual Repair Fair to help with maintenance, clean-up, safety features, and wildfire abatement. The difficulty was in finding candidates who would come forward and ask for help.

So, the REALTORS® applied for a Housing Opportunity Grant to have a professional marketing firm produce and distribute a video about the program. A young couple who’d struggled for years living in a camper agreed to share their story about how the REALTORS® for Veterans program had helped them to stabilize their family, consolidate debts, and eventually buy a home with a VA loan. A short version of the video was also created, airing as a public service announcement on local cable channels and on social media. “This video has been a huge help for us,” states Ornelas. “We are not swamped with applications, but we’re getting leads and identifying those who need us. That is the goal.” Once the half-page application is submitted, it is reviewed by a panel of REALTORS® who are also veterans; the applicants are more comfortable talking with fellow vets, who in turn have the sensitivity and understanding that only those who have served can bring to the table.

The third annual Repair Fair recently helped a 93-year old WWII veteran and his wife to live in increased comfort and safety in their home, with tree services and contractor services donated by community members, as well as lots of elbow-grease from REALTOR® volunteers. Thanks to the video, the Sun Valley Board is exploring partnerships with like-minded organizations that have come forward eager to help veterans own their homes, and even build them, in light of the local housing shortage, says Ornelas.

“The Housing Opportunity Grant has helped us to change lives,” says Ornelas. “The awareness it’s created will have an ongoing impact, connecting us with neighbors who need the kind of assistance we’re equipped to give. We’re so grateful that the REALTOR® Party has made that possible.”

To learn more about how the Sun Valley Board of REALTORS® is helping its local veterans to secure and maintain housing, contact Amanda Ornelas, Executive Officer, at 208-726-7764.

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