Last in a three-part series about community and workforce housing in the Wood River Valley.
When Reid Black and his wife, Tiffani, discovered they were expecting a second child, they began looking for a home with another bedroom. Black said they searched foreclosures and rental properties, but moving south to Hailey—where housing prices are lower—was simply not an option.
"Moving down to Hailey where it was more affordable would have reduced my ability to respond to medical and fire calls," said Black, the fire code official for the city of Sun Valley and an EMT with the Sun Valley Fire Department.
Black said the family could not afford quality housing in the north valley, even with a dual income. But after a workshop with the Blaine County Housing Authority, sponsored by the city of Ketchum, Black discovered that he could afford to move into a home on Sabala Street in West Ketchum that had recently been remodeled by the ARCH Community Housing Trust.
"Up here, to get a newly remodeled house, it would be quite expensive," he said. "To go through the Blaine County Housing Authority made [living in Ketchum] affordable for someone who works for city government."
Black, his wife, his 4-year-old son and infant daughter moved into the home on Sabala Street in July. Without government-sponsored affordable housing, Black said, he might have had to move out of the valley to a place with a lower cost of living.
"I was born here in Sun Valley, and I've seen a lot of people born here who have had to move away," he said. "It gave me hope to keep me in the valley."
Even with falling housing prices, it seems that many valley residents still have trouble finding affordable, quality housing, and developers, real estate agents and housing advocates say affordable housing will continue to play a key role in the valley.
A new look
Michelle Griffith, executive director for the ARCH Community Housing Trust, said falling housing prices have forced the organization to think about future acquisitions in a new way. The Black home is one such example, she said, that could form a new model for affordable housing.
"Our mission is providing affordable housing," she said. "Given the depressed real estate market, rather than build a new house with all of these houses out there, we're going out to see what we can buy and then renovate them."
Families looking for a bargain could of course do the same thing, but Griffith said ARCH is better equipped to undertake the massive rehabilitation that foreclosures often require.
"There's no way you could have lived in that house while we were renovating it," she said. "We took the roof off—there was no kitchen for three months. It would have been completely unaffordable [for a family]."
Griffith said that though the trust is working on new developments as well, the type of rehabilitation performed on the Sabala Street house will likely be the organization's key focus for the "foreseeable future."
Other organizations, however, are focusing on new developments. Ketchum Community Development Corp. Executive Director Jon Duval said that following the success of the organization's Northwood Place affordable rental complex, the group is awaiting approval for a grant to build another on the corner of First Street and Washington Avenue.
The McHanville area south of Ketchum on state Highway 75 is also set to be the location of a newly constructed 15-unit complex, five units of which must be set aside for affordable housing, as it will be built within the county's Community Housing Overlay.
Kathy Grotto, planner with Blaine County Land Use and Building Services, said the application is awaiting approval from the Blaine County Land Use and Building Services, and could be built by the end of next year.
"The developers state that the apartments are meant to be simply affordable," Grotto said. "But in order to meet county requirements, a certain percentage of them must be deed-restricted."
With at least two projects in the works and others likely to be coming, it would appear that affordable housing will remain a force in the Wood River Valley in the near future.
It's the economy
The development of affordable housing will not only help residents, but will help the valley bounce back, Duval said.
"If you can get people to live where they work, all the money being saved [on the commute] goes back to the community," he said.
Dave Patrie, executive administrator for the Blaine County Housing Authority, said he agreed that keeping people in the towns where they work, rather than commuting from Twin Falls or Shoshone, could only help the region.
"When you live in your community, that's where you spend your money, whether it's at Chateau Drug or Atkinsons' Markets," he said.
In addition, Duval said construction of the complexes itself would help local construction companies. Northwood Place construction sent $5 million to local subcontractors, and resulted in a $1.3 million infusion to the city of Ketchum's coffers for permits, fees and a lease on the land.
Duval estimated that Washington Place, if built, would bring $6 million in construction costs and $730,000 in fees, leases and local-option tax.
Economic development would only follow as residents move into the complex's 23 units, Duval added, most in the service industries such as restaurants and retail stores.
"There would be more demand on every service in town," he said. "It would create eight full-time jobs to support these residents."
Full speed ahead
When times get better and incomes rise, the role of affordable housing may seem uncertain. However, Grotto said affordable housing will always be needed.
"Blaine County is still a very hard place to find nice housing if you don't make very much money," she said. "I can't see that there ever won't be a need for affordable housing."
Tom Bergin, director of Blaine County Land Use and Building Services, said that even if housing prices continue to fall, residents will demand additional reasonably priced housing.
"There was a need for affordable housing in 2006 and 2000," he said. "Even though prices have fallen back to those levels in some areas, there was a need for affordable housing then, and there still will be now."
Patrie said ARCH is still trying to adjust to the economy, but adaptation is inevitable, as he doesn't see the need for deed-restricted or workforce housing going away.
"Now is a really good time to increase our stock of affordable units," he said. "The economy has wreaked havoc on the valley. Some things have changed ... [but] the Wood River Valley will be a boomtown again."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org