Affordable housing is the number one problem in the Wood River Valley, but some things we can’t change. It’s a highly desirable place to live surrounded by land we can’t develop, and building luxury condos will always be more profitable than local workforce housing.

Other things we can change. What’s the lowest hanging fruit in our housing crisis? Cracking down on short-term rentals.

An important distinction: It’s one thing for hosts to rent their primary residence during peak season, this doesn’t subtract from the available housing stock and is not my concern. It’s another to own a portfolio of Airbnbs, occupying units that could otherwise be used to house locals.

Short term rentals, or STRs, take up housing stock. Over 1,000 units are actively rented in Ketchum and Sun Valley on Airbnb and VRBO, according to AirDNA, a market research platform for STR investors. Four hundred and thirty-four of these units are full-time rentals (or available 180-plus days a year).

STRs drive up property and rental prices. According to multiple studies in other cities, short term rentals have increased rents and housing prices. There’s a reason so many cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Monica, even Sandpoint, Idaho) have instituted quotas, steep taxes, and requirements that hosts are primary residents of the unit.

STRs aren’t taxed nearly enough. Ketchum taxes STRs at only 4%. This is lower than Sandpoint, McCall, and equal to Hailey. But even raising the tax to 25% won’t solve the problem; it’s still more profitable than long-term rentals. The median return on STRs is $3,500 a month, according to AirDNA.

STRs are a very lucrative business, and investors have taken notice. Of the available rentals on Airbnb, how many hosts have multiple listings? How many have 10 or 20? I’ve seen some hosts with 10 or 20 listings, all two- to three-bedroom condos, the places where working class people used to live. How many hosts are actually investment companies with hundreds of rentals across other resort towns and cities?

Ketchum needs to step up its oversight. After calling the city of Ketchum, they were unable to tell me how many STR businesses are registered with the city, how many units these businesses have, or how much tax revenue the city collects from STRs. This should all be public information. How can we have confidence that the city of Ketchum is on top of the issue, when they don’t know the scope of the problem? How can we be confident that they are even doing the basics, like collecting taxes owed to the city from STRs? Ketchum has the authority to get these answers, but if they’re not asking the questions, they must not think this is a problem.

STRs are eating up housing stock, driving up rents, driving up home prices, and the only ones who benefit are investors and tourists. Meanwhile, we struggle to find nurses, restaurant workers, firefighters, teachers, retail staff, and all the other people who provide a functioning community.

Why can I not find the words “Airbnb,” “VRBO” or “short-term rentals” on Mayor Neil Bradshaw’s reelection website?

Wolfgang Dieterich is a resident of Ketchum. He is the owner of the website

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