On May 28, they Ketchum mayor and City Council hosted a community meeting on the housing crisis. While this was an important step, the meeting was attended primarily by people who have been displaced by rising rents and the removal of long-term rental units from our housing pool. There was no one at the meeting who can supply rental housing, either by developing it or paying for it. If we continue on the path we are on, nothing will change.
What more can we do? A lot.
First: Let’s address the fact that no one is in charge of creating affordable housing in Ketchum. We are at the whim of developers, most of whom don’t live here. Ketchum should reconstitute its Community Housing Commission, and empower it to generate an affordable housing plan and work with local developers to create new community housing units.
Second: We need to prioritize people who live in Ketchum today, not out-of-state developers and rental unit investors who take advantage of us and leave us holding the bag. In particular, people who rent out properties short-term should rethink what they are doing to our community. They should rent longer-term to locals. Perhaps our local employers could provide incentives to them to do so. Free meals (or free beer)?
Third: we need a zoning code revision. We should not permit corporations to come to Ketchum if they don’t pay a living wage and don’t provide housing for their employees. Letting out-of-state hotel companies like Aspen Ski Co. (Limelight) build massive hotels that we don’t need and then import a low-paid workforce that can’t afford to live here is just dumb. And yet our City Council repeated the mistake with PEG (Marriott). Likewise, allowing out-of-state developers to build things like KETCH with tiny apartments and no parking is also dumb. We heard the residents of KETCH say so at the town meeting. And yet our City Council is repeating the mistake on a massive scale with Bluebird.
Fourth: We need the mayor and council to work with local developers to identify sites for rental housing, and we need our city planners and Planning and Zoning Commission to provide consistency in the process to encourage local investment in long-term rental housing.
Fifth: Our businesses need to step up. We read a lot of complaints by business owners that they can’t find workers because of the housing shortage. But what are they doing about it? If they are waiting for Bluebird, that’s two years away and even at its scale won’t be enough housing to solve their problem. And there is nothing coming after it. Business needs to band together and come up some solutions.
Sixth: We have all heard the stories of BCHA deed-restricted units being improperly sublet or occupied by people who falsified their application. BCHA should audit its units to restore confidence that affordable housing is going to people who need it.
Seventh: In the affordable rentals we do have, rents should move up with tenant income to encourage higher-wage tenants to move out and make room for new lower-income tenants.
Eighth: Ketchum should coordinate with other Idaho resort cities to lobby Boise for a short-term rental tax on hotels and private rentals and a flip tax on second homes, dedicated to affordable housing. This is how they do it in Colorado. The real estate broker lobby is strong in Boise and will resist, but we have to at least try.
There is no silver bullet to the affordable housing crisis. But there are steps we can take, and we should start now.
Perry Boyle is president of the Affordable Housing Coalition.