Ketchum leaders took another small step this week toward taking on the workforce-housing crisis facing the city and Wood River Valley.
Mayor Neil Bradshaw and the City Council on Monday discussed at length possible actions the city could take to provide short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions. The discussion was a follow-up to a public workshop conducted by the city on May 28.
Bradshaw and council members also heard public comment on the issue.
Kate Riley, 66, a caregiver and eight-year Blaine County resident, set the stage early on, calling the housing issue a “full-on community crisis.” Though she has been a working professional all of her life, she said, she may not have a place to live while she tries to continue to care for an elderly woman she has served for four years. She rents an apartment above a garage, she said, but the property has been placed on the market and the rent was recently raised.
“I am, along with many others, one of the threads of the very fabric that holds this community together,” she said. City leaders, she said, have a “responsibility” to act.
Nathan Harvill, executive director of the Blaine County Housing Authority, said the area has had a shortage of workforce housing “for a very long time” but the problem was exacerbated by an influx of new residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, during the pandemic, real estate sales soared, some rentals were sold and many rental rates were raised.
Harvill said the number of inquiries to his organization about securing affordable housing has risen dramatically in the last year.
“This is not something that is new, though. This is something that should not have taken anybody by surprise,” he said.
Meanwhile, businesses in Ketchum and Sun Valley have reported having difficulty hiring enough staff to operate at full capacity.
To address the problem, the city developed a set of lists of possible solutions, based in part on ideas brought forth during the May 28 workshop. One idea—establishing a tent village for people who can’t find housing—garnered strong reaction in the community.
City Administrator Jade Riley presented the options to the City Council. Possible short-term solutions include:
• Partnering with the Housing Authority to match people who need housing with seniors who could gain some benefit from renting part of their home.
• Contracting with a property management firm to help people find rentals and access off-market possibilities.
• Brokering agreements with hotels to pre-book rooms for renters during periods when sales are soft.
• Allowing camping at Rotary Park, near the YMCA.
• Establishing regulations to allow RVs to either park on city property or for long periods on private property.
• Using federal funds to assist people with paying first- and last-month rent costs.
Council members generally supported exploring the feasibility of the ideas but most were opposed to camping at Rotary Park. Nonetheless, the concept of a tent village for workers in or near the city prompted compassionate reaction from council members.
“I would love to not be in this situation,” Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said, “and to not have proposed options like this coming onto the table.”
Hamilton said camping could be a possibility for this summer and offered other short-term ways the city could consider helping people without housing.
“The fact of the matter is that Ketchum has a lot of homeless people right now,” she said.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she is opposed to camping at Rotary Park but noted that the idea highlights the importance of the issue.
“I think it shows how dire the problem is here,” she said.
Discussing solutions can be “uncomfortable” but must be done, because the problem has been “pushed under the rug for decades,” Councilman Michael David said
“These are our community workers, our friends,” he said.
Bradshaw said the city would not pursue allowing camping at Rotary Park. However, Councilman Jim Slanetz said the idea could be considered elsewhere, such as near River Run.
The concept of securing hotel rooms in Ketchum is “not looking great,” the city administrator said, but hotels have it “on their radar,” Bradshaw noted.
City considers other solutions
The city’s list of possible mid-term solutions to the workforce-housing crisis unveiled on Monday include:
• Fostering development of a hostel, possibly through an existing building.
• Finding property to allow development of a “tiny house village.”
• Making changes to the zoning code to reduce mandatory lot sizes, allow increased density or encourage secondary housing units.
• Increasing the local-option tax on short-term rentals.
The mid-term solutions have a time frame of about two years.
The list of possible actions for the long-term—three to five years—include:
• Soliciting proposals for developing workforce housing on a city parking lot at Leadville Avenue and Sixth Street.
• Partnering with Blaine County and St. Luke’s to develop housing near the hospital south of town.
• Making additional applications for tax credits to apply toward housing projects.
• Modifying parking standards for the development of small units.
• Making land acquisitions.
In considering the lists, council members suggested other possible solutions, such as developing the city parking lot at Washington Avenue and Second Street, creating incentives for long-term rentals, purchasing deed restrictions on some housing and testing public support for a bond issue to fund housing initiatives.
“I think we need to keep pursuing every opportunity that we have,” Hamilton said.
Other members of the public who spoke offered additional ideas.
Ketchum resident and housing advocate Kris Gilarowski called for owners of large houses to rent out or invite people to live in extra bedrooms.
“It’s kind of embarrassing that we’ve come to this point,” he said.
Ketchum resident Perry Boyle said the city needs to obtain better data on the need for workforce housing and how many jobs are going unfilled because of the crisis.
“Is there a way for the city to work with the local developers to see what would work for them in terms of building more long-term rentals?” he asked. “They’re the ones who will eventually solve this problem.”
In the end, Bradshaw said the city will continue to refine its list of possible actions and will continue to discuss which solutions to pursue.
“I think we can solve this as a community,” he said.