The Blaine County Housing Authority has determined that many professionals in the county do not make enough money to purchase a home.

    The price of buying a home, condominium or townhome in Blaine County leveled off in 2015 after steeper hikes in previous years, but the cost of some rental housing surged.

    That was one of the key points from the Blaine County Housing Authority’s annual report taking stock of the housing market countywide.

    Affordable housing has long been a thorny issue in Blaine County, and the report showed a mix of successes and drawbacks in 2015.

    In January, the Housing Authority opened the Lift Tower Lodge for short term renters—with stays typically capped at 30 days—in southern Ketchum. It housed a total of 108 people for 3,410 nights this year, according to the report.

Demand for the Housing Authority’s services was up in 2015: It received 136 applications for 275 people through September, which was an 8 to 10 percent increase from 2014. Last year it received 126 applications for 251 people.

The biggest crunch for housing was seen in the rental market, as 73 percent of new applicants were looking to rent, according to the report.

    Housing Authority Executive Director David Patrie said those numbers could be inflated by the Lift Tower Lodge’s operation, and by short-term rentals offered by websites such as Airbnb.

Home prices

    Still, the high price of a median home was out of reach for many moderate- to lower-income workers in the Wood River Valley. The report concluded this was pushing them into the rental market.

    Single-family home sales in Hailey and Bellevue climbed to 60 in the third quarter of 2015, which was 49 percent higher than that quarter in 2014.

    The third quarter’s median price was just shy of $300,000, after jumping to almost $350,000 in the previous quarter. That was in line with the final three quarters of 2014, though it dipped to nearly $200,000 in the first quarter of 2015.

    The condo and townhome market in the South Valley was more affordable. The median price of those units was about $150,000 in the third quarter of 2015, a drop of 14 percent compared to the price in the fourth quarter of 2013.

    The median price of single-family homes in Ketchum and Sun Valley has jumped around considerably since the end of 2013, but ended the last two quarters of 2015 at slightly more than $1 million.

    That coincides with an increase in the number of units sold. Almost 30 units sold in the third quarter of 2015, a 190 percent increase from the end of 2013.

    The median price of a condo and townhome has largely remained static for the past year, hovering at around $350,000.

    Countywide, the Housing Authority put the overall median home price at $358,000, citing the Sun Valley Board of Realtors.

Affordability

    The Housing Authority’s analysis concluded that buying a home at that price required an annual income of $97,700, using a rule of thumb that the price of the home should not exceed three times the buyer’s annual income.

    The county’s median household income across all households was $64,042, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That put the target affordable price at $192,000, and only 21 percent of homes were sold at or below that target from the end of 2014 through 2015.

     Many starting salaries earned far less than that, according to the Housing Authority’s analysis.

    The starting salary for a school teacher with the Blaine County School District was $41,123 in 2015, while a police officer with the Sun Valley Police Department earned $42,675. A registered nurse and scrub technician in Blaine County earned $44,000 and $36,000, respectively, in 2015.

    Other industry sectors had similar or lower salary levels: The leisure and hospitality sector pays its workers an average of $22,174 annually, while the construction industry pays $41,023.

Rental market

    The average cost of renting a two-bedroom unit in Ketchum shot up in 2015, to $1,717 per month. That’s a 56 percent increase from 2014. In the south valley, the cost was up to $903 per month, a 9 percent increase from 2014.

    “The rental market is increasing in pretty much every market we look at,” Patrie said. “We’re seeing increasing prices across the board.”

    The average number of two-bedroom units advertised per month have plummeted over the past three years, signifying a much tighter rental market.

    In Hailey in 2012, an average of 12 such units were advertised monthly. That declined to about two each month in 2015. In Ketchum, about seven were advertised monthly in 2012. That’s now down to about two as well.

    The cost of one-bedroom units was $925 on average in the north valley, and $669 in the south in 2015. Prices in Hailey and Ketchum were comparable to 2014, while Bellevue saw an increase to close to $800 in 2015. Sun Valley’s average price dropped in 2015.

    The average number of advertisements for these units also saw drops in 2015. More than five per month were advertised, on average, in Ketchum in 2012. That declined by half in 2015.

    In Hailey, slightly more than three one-bedroom units were advertised monthly in 2012. That’s down to two per month this year.

Response

    These trends have not gone unnoticed. Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay said at a meeting Dec. 7 that the nonprofit Sun Valley Economic Development believes affordable housing is one of the biggest issues confronting the business community in Blaine County, along with airport service and job growth.

    On the job front, Blaine County did well in 2015. Its work force grew by 4.4 percent with 483 more jobs this year, compared to 2014.

    City Councilman Michael David said the city needs to move to create more affordable housing in the upcoming year, and cited lots owned by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency and they city of Ketchum.

    “We can make it happen,” David said. “It’s been on the top priority list since the late ’80s. I think we pay it lip service. We might lose a couple of parking spots. Parking spaces are the tail that wags the dog in these issues.”

    Patrie said the Housing Authority partnered with ARCH Community Housing Trust to move a home from Ketchum to Hailey that is about to be taken off steel beams and renovated. A garage and mudroom will be added, and the home will be available in 2016, though Patrie wasn’t sure if it would be rented or sold.

    The city of Ketchum is expecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in in-lieu development fees that it could put to housing. Patrie said the Housing Authority would be available to recommend how to spend those dollars, but that will be up to the city, ultimately.

    Two to three new single-family homes will be up for sale in Hailey to people in the Housing Authority database in 2016, along with four new three-bedroom townhomes that will be rented in Bellevue, Patrie said.

Email the writer: pjensen@mtexpress.com

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