I am a both a Ketchum and Blaine County property owner and landlord. I read with interest the opinion piece by Liz Rossman on affordable housing in the Feb. 13 issue of the Idaho Mountain Express (“Not all can afford to live in a resort community”).
I also read with interest the many competing comments on the Mountain Express website pertaining to her article.
The sides taken in these comments tell a great deal about this situation. Many applaud her common-sense suggestion that elected leaders need to develop a realistic approach to affordable housing driven by natural economics, as opposed to manipulated economics. Others seem to criticize, or want to wish their way into affordable housing in an expensive resort community. Clearly, affordable housing in Ketchum, whatever that is, is an issue that divides many in our community. It cannot be solved with wishful thinking, with forced economics or social engineering.
Indeed, affordable housing has become a catchall term with little local definition. What is it? What is affordable? Is it rental or purchase, or both? Who are the targeted demographics? Are they individuals or family units? How many units of what size and type do the elected officials and advocate organizations believe are needed? Where is the input from residents and property owners who distrust the direction or fear the impact? Without addressing these questions and fostering serious discussions involving all of the Wood River Valley, it is unlikely we will properly or fairly address this issue.
It appears to many that the actions that elected officials and organizations are advocating to address affordable housing in Ketchum have little regard for the interests of existing homeowners, property owners and institutions. Many residents are increasingly concerned about the wisdom of an elected Ketchum City Council that will spend millions on a vacant lot, in the hope that a developer will appear, while at the same time the city is faced with a broken-down City Hall, a Fire Department in disarray, a housing experiment lacking parking and an apparent strategy to destroy the city’s relationship with the YMCA while adversely impacting many of our community members.
Land value is the principal economic variable that changes as you go north in the Wood River Valley. One only has to look at the 2018 real estate sales to further illustrate the folly of forcing affordable housing in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area. The median Sun Valley single-family home price was $1.8 million; for Ketchum, nearly $1.3 million and condos almost $600,000. By contrast, where the land is less expensive, such as Hailey and Bellevue, median home values are in the $300,000 range and in the $200,000 range in southern Blaine County.
Those costs differentials are not driven by the cost of wood, nails, paint and drywall. They are driven by land costs and the attendant infrastructure. Simply said, building cheaper housing where land is expensive means politically devaluing the land, packing in more people per square foot, reducing living space and compromising the quality of life that such crowding brings.
As Ms. Rossman clearly pointed out, a reasonable commute allows many people to choose housing in a more affordable community. Local leaders and advocates need to recognize the reality of land values and focus their efforts on affordable housing where it naturally exists.
Pursuing affordable housing is not the problem. The problem is well-meaning elected leaders and advocate organizations trying to create affordable housing, whatever that is, through forced economic and social manipulation.
Joe Fritsch lives in Ketchum.