I look forward to the day that workforce housing projects are not viewed with fear but with excitement, expectation and opportunity. For we all know that the character and soul of Ketchum is not just about our mountains and our buildings, it is about the people who live here and contribute to everyday life. It is about the folks who are integral to our community, enrich our day and bring a smile to our faces.
With every attempt to bring workforce housing to our town, complaints are voiced about location, density, traffic, parking and noise. Are those really the reasons we resist a project? Or is it a thinly veiled attempt to hide true prejudice? We are better than that, Ketchum. Rest assured, we are committed to addressing issues of real concern, but it starts with being willing to put the needs of others before our own.
We came together as a community and developed a comprehensive plan that states that “housing should be integrated into the downtown core.” We came together as a community to adopt a code that creates incentives to achieve additional housing density in the core. Furthermore, we identified the use of low-income housing tax credits as a meaningful way to produce affordable rental rates while providing the at-risk private developer a regulated return that is independently audited. Now we need to come together as a community to show that this was more than lip service and that we have the fortitude to implement our community’s vision. We can’t simply settle for words in a plan; we can only rest when the plan is realized.
I believe that we all want to find a way to allow our teachers to be able to stay on after school so that they can play in the softball league, attend trivia night, volunteer for a nonprofit or contribute to our community in many other ways. I believe we want our volunteer firefighters and paramedics to live closer so they are quicker to respond to an emergency situation. We want our service workers to avoid a long drive home and be able to help with a youth soccer team, play in the local band and participate in town life. Finally, I know we want our health-care workers to stay in our town so they can get that extra hour of sleep and be rested and better able to cope with the trauma case that they may face the next day.
Diversity is the essence of vibrant societies. It provides fresh ideas and perspectives that enhance our lives in countless ways, allowing us all to grow and thrive together. It is not only more inclusive, it is more innovative, more productive and economically more sustainable.
Housing policy is also climate policy and adding housing in walkable locations will reduce emissions. When addressing housing, much attention is focused on construction materials, energy efficiency and green building standards, all of which are needed. Yet, as we face a climate crisis, we cannot create development solutions that put more cars on the road, increase air pollution and unfairly burden lower- and middle-income communities. Land-use policies that create sprawling, auto-dependent communities exacerbate economic disparities and amplify public health problems.
As the cars stream south at the end of the workday, our lifeblood is being sucked from our core. All those vital and essential workers are leaving our town. How we treat opportunities to build affordable housing will define our community just as much as our hillside ordinance or our preservation policy. I hope we can all support our workforce housing projects so we can keep a few more smiles in Ketchum. I hope we can open our hearts and provide a warm Ketchum welcome to those needing affordable housing and to those trying to make it happen.
Neil Bradshaw is mayor of Ketchum.