More than half of Blaine County households are either below the federal poverty level or “working but unable to afford basic household necessities,” according to a recent report by the United Way—a statistic that’s particularly troubling given housing costs in the Wood River Valley, local affordable housing advocates say.
Fifty-two percent of Blaine County fell under the threshold for ALICE—a designation that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—in 2018, according to the report published earlier this summer. That includes 904 households at or below the federal poverty level and 3,322 ALICE households—households that earn above the poverty level but still “struggle to make ends meet,” as United Way describes it.
“Really, ALICE is measuring the people that are on that razor’s edge—they’re one sick child or one broken-down vehicle away from losing income or losing a job,” said Nathan Harvill, executive director of the Blaine County Housing Authority, in an interview.
While the number of households in poverty in Idaho remained relatively flat between 2007 and 2018, the number that qualify as ALICE grew, according to the United Way report, as a result of “rising costs and stagnant wages.” As of 2018, 28 percent of households statewide were ALICE households and 12 percent were earning below the federal poverty level.
Only four counties in Idaho had a higher percentage of households under the ALICE level than Blaine County in 2018, the report shows: Idaho County, Madison County, Owyhee County and Clark County, which had the largest share at 62 percent.
In Blaine County, the ALICE threshold is about $27,000 for a single adult, $41,000 for two adults and between $67,000 and $78,000 for two adults with two children.
“It really is like a division between the have-less and the have-mores,” said Liz Keegan, Blaine County Housing Authority board member, of the income distribution in the Wood River Valley.
The number of families that fall under the ALICE threshold is particularly concerning in light of the cost of housing in the Wood River Valley, Harvill and Keegan say: The minimum annual income needed to afford a three-bedroom home in Blaine County is $161,000, according to Housing Authority data.
Broken down into a budget, families with two children at the ALICE threshold in Blaine County can afford to pay about $1,016 for housing each month, according to the report. In 2018, the average monthly rent for a three-bedroom home advertised in Blaine County was $2,171, according to data compiled by the Housing Authority. The average rent for a studio apartment was $1,141.
And average rental rates in Blaine County appear to have risen since then, more recent Housing Authority data suggest. Of the 235 three-bedroom rental homes that have been advertised since the beginning of the year, the average monthly rent was $2,328; the minimum household income needed to afford that average rent was about $93,000. The average one-bedroom was $1,235, requiring a minimum income of about $49,000.
There are several affordable housing projects in the works in Blaine County. In Hailey, ARCH Community Housing Trust will break ground on a new 60-unit development on the Blaine Manor property this summer, and in Ketchum, the Housing Authority is looking into the possibility of turning the Lift Tower Lodge into longer-term affordable housing.
In the meantime, the Housing Authority is conducting an online survey to gauge housing needs and wants in the county.
“We’re trying to make a dent here,” Keegan said. “But I don’t know if we can ever catch up to the need.”