Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue have always been real towns despite outside perceptions that the resort-dependent communities are mere collections of wine-swilling, avocado-toast-eating elitists.
Not all towns are real towns. Anyone who has been to Disney World and its international town replicas knows that. They are full of people each day, but they become ghost towns every night.
Real towns have full-time residents who live and work in them. Kids go to school, businesses sell goods and services, and volunteers band together to do good. It’s easy to buy a plain pair of socks or a new couch in a real town without having to re-mortgage the house. People know their neighbors, their neighbors’ kids and the dogs that run at large.
Ketchum is teetering on the brink of losing its real-town status. Hailey and Bellevue are real towns now, but how long can they last with underperforming local wages that don’t come close to keeping up with open-market housing prices that are unaffordable for most workers?
How long can they last in the face of the COVID-19-driven real-estate-buying frenzy of urban refugees and the short-term rental industry that have turned an income gap into an unbridgeable chasm?
While megahouses proliferate, 52 percent of households in Blaine County struggle to pay rent and put food on the table, according to a recent report by United Way. The number grows every year.
It didn’t have to be this way. Other successful mountain resort towns bridged the gap with successful workforce housing development that kept rents and mortgages reasonable.
That didn’t happen in Blaine County where every small success left in its wake exhausted housing champions, more opposition and bowed spines of elected officials.
The county’s real towns are in danger of trickling away one permanent resident, one job, one family and one business at a time. They may look healthy, but the malignant emptiness of a theme park at midnight is their destiny if elected officials continue to rank workforce housing below new city halls, fire stations and public-sector featherbedding.