As we settle into our winter season, let us be thankful for some very good news. More workforce housing is coming to Ketchum. Bluebird Village, on the site of the current City Hall, has received funding to move forward. Why is workforce housing so important to our mountain town? Ketchum thousands of jobs, but too few affordable places to live for our friends and neighbors who anchor this community and do the work to make this town thrive. When Bluebird Village is completed, we’ll be able to wave hello to retail workers, coffee shop baristas, hair stylists, health-care workers and restaurant workers. And we’ll be able to call them neighbors.
In Blaine County, 52% of our population fell under the threshold of ALICE—that stands for “asset-limited, income-constrained, employed”—in 2018, according to a recent community assessment report by the United Way of Treasure Valley. That includes living on a survival budget for housing, utilities, food, health care, childcare, transportation and technology, like phone bills. Fully 70% of all Idahoans earn $20 an hour or less. At the Blaine County Housing Authority, we currently have over 170 households on our waiting list for workforce housing.
Recently, I heard a doctor say that the best medicine is stable housing. Decent, affordable, long-term housing means more worker productivity, better education outcomes for our children, a healthier population and a thriving community.
Most people I talk with are in favor of more workforce and affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development states that housing should cost no more than 30% of income. But too many people are housing-burdened, paying up to 50% or more of income for housing. That’s less money for food, health care and transportation. During this pandemic, I have listened to stories of rent increases ranging from a $200 a month, to another at 30% and another of 100%. Think about this the next time you stop into your favorite coffee shop, your retail store, your grocery or your health-care provider’s office.
The best part of this story is that you can become involved. You can have a voice in decisions on how Bluebird Village will look, and how it will become an integral part of our community. I ask that our workers and employers speak up in this effort to advance workforce housing. Tell us your stories about how difficult it is to find housing, and how difficult it is to hire and retain workers. Join those who know that it does take a valley to live our motto, “Small Town, Big Life.”
Liz Keegan is the vice chairwoman of the Blaine County Housing Authority board. She lives in Ketchum.