A group of about 75 south Wood River Valley business leaders and elected officials gathered at The Mint in Hailey on Friday, Nov. 9, to address the need for affordable housing and what cities are doing to address it.
“It will be a team effort that makes it work,” said Chamber President Todd Hunter, the owner of Idaho Lumber in Hailey.
Hunter said five of his 30 employees live “way outside the area” due to the high cost of housing, but they drive to the Wood River Valley for wages 20 to 30 percent higher than in their home communities.
Hunter said international trade tariffs announced by the Trump administration are expected to raise his purchasing costs early next year.
“That will mean everything from nuts and bolts to power tools, everything across the board, and, of course, lumber,” Hunter said in an interview.
“As we try to remain competitive, it’s not sustainable to expect small businesses to prop up wages,” he said.
Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said donations of property to the ARCH Community Housing Trust for the River Street senior apartments helped supply housing. He said recently approved zoning changes that eliminated maximum housing-unit densities per-acre downtown, and allow micro-housing units on a portion of North River Street, could also yield results from developers.
“Time will tell,” he said.
Hailey Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said 27 deed-restricted units will be included in the recently annexed Quigley Farm development on the city’s east side, and that the city could soon address the possibility of expanding accessory dwelling units.
“Right now, we have ADUs in only half the town. That’s not very logical,” she said.
The city of Hailey partners with ARCH Community Housing Trust, which works to supply housing to a list of applicants managed by the Blaine County Housing Authority.
Blaine County Housing Authority Executive Director Nathan Harvill said 200 people are on a one-to-two-year waiting list for workforce and deed-restricted housing.
ARCH Executive Director Michelle Griffith said the organization has worked on providing more than 60 housing units in the valley (including apartments), with four under construction, two in litigation and parcels that could allow for 31 units.
She said 40 percent of Blaine County residents are “housing burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their earnings on housing.
‘That percentage is slightly worse in the south valley,” she said.
Griffith said the biggest problem facing the development of affordable housing in Blaine County is the “attitude” of the community.
“Some people don’t want to live next to certain other people, but they don’t like to talk about it.” Griffith said. “Some people don’t want to live next to anyone at all.”
Griffith said she is currently in court with a plaintiff trying to block an ARCH housing project on Buttercup Road north of Hailey, who lives about a mile from the proposed development.
“Some people seem to think that if someone needs housing assistance, they have done something wrong,” Griffith said.
Griffith cited a recent $17 million fundraising effort by the Mountain Humane organization to build a new animal shelter in Croy Canyon.
“If we could also do that with housing, we would be able solve the affordable-housing problem,” she said.
Griffith said ARCH could build 90 units with that much donated money. From the revenue stream from rent from the 90 units (after expenses), ARCH could then build more housing at sites scattered around the valley, she said.
“Future housing development could be self-sustaining,” she said in an interview.
Griffith said the majority of existing ARCH units have debt that must first be paid because they were financed with a loan.
Griffith said 100 percent of ARCH’s program expenses, for all housing maintenance costs, is paid for by rental income.
About 70 percent of operating expenses, for office, advertising and salaries, is paid for from the rents, she said.
Retired building contractor Jeff Anderton said on Friday that cities could do more to incentivize developments, by reducing minimum rights of way, requiring sidewalks on only one side of some streets, and reducing parking-space and snow-storage requirements.
“We could provide plans to remove snow, just like the city does,” Anderton said in an interview.
Anderton said it is time for the real estate industry to make changes to ease the burden on developers.
“I have to chuckle when I hear the Sun Valley Board of Realtors supports affordable housing when I am working on a 10 percent margin and their 6 percent sales commission is equal to 50 to 60 percent of my gross profit,” he said.
Bellevue Community Development Director Diane Shay said changes could soon be coming to that city that would allow for more affordable-housing developments.
“People are living in smaller spaces,” Shay said. “And we are now talking about the tiny-house movement. Our minimum lots are now 6,000 square feet, but next week we are going to start talking about going to 3,000 square feet.”