The Cost of Affordable Housing
ILLUSTRATIONS Charlotte Hemmings
Thoughts on the unending issue from the officials who write the laws, the developers who have to follow them, and the people who live in the Valley’s realistically priced homes.
Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity, Blaine County Chapter
What are we missing?
Based on our 2006 survey, there were about 1,900 workers that said they would prefer to live in Blaine County if they could afford to live here. Well, 1,900 workers at $12 an hour represents over $1.2 million in payroll every week. That $50 million-per-year heads south out of this county. Can you imagine if we had another $50 million circulating in this economy?
What does it take to build more housing?
Money. That’s kind of a flip answer, but it takes money and it takes political will. One of the things that’s been very disappointing to me is the fact that the hotel people have convinced Ketchum that they can’t make their deals work or they’re unwilling to provide community housing. So the city council has yielded in their favor and waived these [affordable housing] requirements provided they put these hotels up within a certain time frame. I think it’s wrong. A hotel is going to have just as much trouble attracting workers as a restaurant or a dry cleaner.
Executive Director, Blaine County Housing Authority
What is local government’s role in affordable housing?
Local government is critical in two ways: funding BCHA so we can provide the services that we do and supporting ordinances that will at least incentivize the building of affordable housing.
The single biggest challenge?
Money. I don’t think public opposition is the biggest hurdle anymore. I also think the local jurisdictions generally have a considerable commitment to affordable housing, especially the city of Ketchum where the need is the greatest. But funding new development is just a huge challenge. The state of Idaho isn’t exactly supportive of local endeavors that could fund housing, such as the real estate transfer tax. Locally, our hands are tied in a lot of ways.
What if we do nothing?
The lack of affordable housing is going to limit the growth and sustainability of local businesses. Local businesses lose out on the money that’s earned locally when workers take their paychecks out of the Valley. The communities lose out on the sense of unity and vibrancy when you don’t have homeowners who are active in their communities.
Rental vs Ownership
We definitely need both. In the past, we focused primarily on ownership homes. Secure ownership means greater stability for homeowners and the community, but this recession is definitely going to increase the demand for affordable rentals.
Your first home in the Valley
Mine was a small, second-story apartment in Hailey, which was very basic. But it had grand views of Quigley Canyon and the hills to the east.
Ketchum City Council
Have we missed the boat on affordable housing?
Gosh, I hope not. Right now our affordable housing system is connected to development. So, of course, with the economic downturn, there is no new community housing.
What’s better for the Valley, rentals or home ownership?
It’s a combination of both. Right now we have a ton of rental units available on the private market. We do need more affordable homes—actual homes, not so many smaller units, but family homes. But for me, the bigger problem is that we need more high-paying jobs.
Is government hurting or helping?
I think our biggest problem is how it has been structured in the past—having it tied to construction. Now, waivers (for affordable housing requirements) are being granted. Part of this is economics and part is political sensibilities. Do we give a waiver to a hotel because a hotel is going to bring jobs and stimulate the economy or do we enforce more housing?
What does the Valley look like in ten years?
There’s not enough work here for people to make the money to buy the property at the current value. It’s going to stay similar—people who have made money elsewhere and then are moving here.
Your first home in the Valley
A three-bedroom 2,500 square-foot-home, in west Ketchum. My parents purchased it in 1974. The price of the home was equivalent to their two incomes for one year. That same home today would be the equivalent of my husband’s and my income combined for 20 years.
Owner, The Kirk Group
The main obstacle to affordable housing?
The high cost of land. We’ve been attempting to make the new developer provide it to solve the problems, not just to keep us even, but to also take care of the past. I think collectively and communally we’ve been overly aggressive in what we thought the new development could bear. As a result, there hasn’t been any.
Your first home in the Valley
I was lucky. I had some capital that I brought with me. My first home in the Valley was a single-family residence that my wife and I purchased and remodeled. I was one of the lucky few that had a capital base of a few hundred thousand dollars. Even given that capital base today, I don’t think I could afford to move here.
“We’ve got a lost demographic here. When it comes time to picking a career, having a family or settling down, we’re losing those people. We don’t backfill the baby boom generation. As a result, we stagnate socially, culturally and economically.” -George Kirk
Optimism vs. pessimism
That’s a hard one. I’ve been beating my head against this wall for so long that I’m pessimistic. But I guess I’m optimistic because there are some tools that we can avail ourselves of that I think could provide a broader mix of housing.
The age gap
We’ve got a lost demographic here. When it comes time to picking a career, having a family or settling down, we’re losing those people. We don’t backfill the baby boom generation. As a result, we stagnate socially, culturally and economically.
Blaine County Commissioner
Is it too late to build the housing we need?
I don’t think so. I think there are more opportunities here to improve affordable housing. In order for our community to be successful into the future, it’s highly likely that we’re going to need to improve our affordable housing situation. But we do have some real challenges, both in the state of Idaho with some of our legislative restraints, and we have some real problems right now because nothing is being built.
So we’re not doomed?
I'd certainly say that I’m hopeful. But there are significant, real challenges to building up that housing stock. I think a number of the city governments realize it’s a priority. The school district in the past few years has done some work toward affordable housing, and we’ve basically rewritten two ordinances during the past two years toward improving affordable housing. I’m hopeful because we have a community that recognizes that it is a need.
Can local government help?
I think our role is to work within the boundaries of what we are able to do and to continue to be innovative and creative and work with stakeholders to come up with incentive-based ordinances that can be successful. It means reaching out to the building community to find out what they would be willing to build, reaching out to the people who need the housing and reaching out to employers to help them understand the need for housing.
Your first home in the Valley
I lived in Crestview in Ketchum, right by River Run. I moved there in September of ’99. I chose it for obvious reasons, to be close to the mountain. I moved here originally to take a break after school. Within that first year, I lived in three different apartments.
Owner of an affordable home, Architect, ARCH Board Member
Is your affordable unit a shoebox?
The unit itself is pretty nice. The builder didn’t just provide a box to solve his housing requirement. I think he did a good job of keeping it a place I am going to be proud of. I love the fact that I’m right in town. I hardly ever start my car. I walk everywhere.
Money or Politics ?
Really, it does boil down to money a lot. Ketchum has a program that gives incentives to developers to create (affordable) housing. That’s helped. That’s only been on the books for a few years. Before, one of the biggest hurdles was the politics of it. I think that’s less of a problem today. I think there is broader acceptance.
“There’s a lot of second-home ownership here . . . I think the place would die if you only had that population. You’ve got to have some level of permanent community to make it desirable even for those second-home owners.”
How does it feel to own your home?
I was renting from a friend for ten years, and it worked out great for me. But I think this does change the picture for me in a positive way. The interesting thing now is that it puts some pressure on me that I didn’t have as a renter. And with the current economic situation it’s a little scary. Even though this is affordable housing, it’s got me stretched at the moment. But I think that may be a good thing. It kind of ups my sense of belonging.