Local housing markets have been a burden to area employers, preventing new employees from coming into St. Maries

Now, a new push from Timber Plus seeks to attract residential development by getting those businesses to guarantee a market for investors.

The proposal from Timber Plus would see Benewah County’s largest employers commit to covering the rent of a number of apartments in a proposed residential complex, when one is built. In this way, the employers would reduce risks to prospective developers, making it more profitable to build residential structures in the area.

“Between the local employers, if they commit to even five units each, we’re looking at like 25 units sold before you even break ground,” Timber Plus Director Alex Barta said. “This sort of project is an investment for developers; if the developer makes money, it’ll work, and this sort of pledge helps reduce that risk.”

Timber Plus has sought to increase housing availability in St. Maries for some time, conducting studies and speaking with companies around the region to attract attention to a medium-scale apartment complex. The belief is that a higher amount of housing would increase hiring at local businesses, which he said are in need of new employees.

“We’ve looked at different avenues and tried to get a large scale apartment developer to invest in St. Maries, but that didn’t go forward,” Mr. Alex Barta said.

Several area employers readily agree with this assessment, saying the shortage has caused prospective employees to pass on job offers and seek work elsewhere.

“Timber Plus recognizes one of the greatest conflicts moving to this area and bringing businesses here is housing for employees,” Superintendent Alica Holthaus of the St. Maries school district said. “I will tell you we had one person turn down a job this year,” she said. “He called ahead about housing and couldn’t find any, so he said he couldn’t move here.”

“We have also lost potential hires due to the housing crunch,” Benewah Community Hospital Trustee Carol Humphrey said. “Timber Plus is well aware of it and is leaving no stone unturned looking for grants and developers.”

Timber Plus has reached out to area businesses, including Valley Vista Care Center, Benewah Community Hospital and the school district to seek commitments to rent apartments. While no action has been taken by any parties at this time, members of those organizations said they were open to the possibility.

“They’ve asked us to secure some of those apartments, and we can’t really do that as a public entity, but we fully support this project,” Ms. Holthaus said. “It would be nice to get a nice mid-level apartment in the area so when teachers come, we can say there’s places available instead of ‘good luck with that.’”

“This is something we’ve discussed as a board, and with the CEO,” BCH Trustee Carol Humphrey said. “She’s really behind this 100 percent, and if it’s something that can benefit the hospital, we’d likely support it.”

While Mr. Barta said enough exists to fill the needs of a residential developer, a lack of available land of sufficient size within Benewah County delayed the process. He said Timber Plus is working with the county to find a suitable plot for development, but the process is slow.

“The next step is finding a piece of land that we can put this on and is large enough,” he said. “Whether it’s a private entity or a county-owned plot, it doesn’t matter”

For more information on the project, contact Timber Plus at 208-245-2239

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