Ketchum city council explores solutions to affordable housing shortage

On Monday the city council addressed the issue with input from the public on what some possible short-term, mid-term, and long-term options could be
Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 1:49 PM MDT
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KETCHUM, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Over the past month, KMVT has informed viewers of the current affordable housing crisis in Blaine County. On Monday the city council addressed the issue with input from the public on what some possible short-term, mid-term, and long-term options could be.

Some short-term options the mayor and council discussed were the use of Federal COVID funds for rental assistance, securing hotel rooms, and offering housing vouchers. Some other ideas included securing public RV sites or changing the city code to allow RVs on private land or city parking lots for qualified workers.

Affordable housing short-term, mid-term and long-term options.
Affordable housing short-term, mid-term and long-term options.(SK)

Some people who attended the meeting consider the idea of allowing people to camp out in parks and RVs as “tent camps”. Ketchum resident Kate Riley, who is a caregiver for a 95-year woman and is about to lose her apartment because the property it resides on is about to be put up for sale, told the council and mayor she thinks the “tent camp” idea is an insult to those who are displaced.

“And this ‘tent camp’ solution is not a solution. That is an embarrassment right there. All on its own,” Riley said.

Esther Willams, who also attended the meeting and is on the verge of being priced out of her apartment because the property is being put up for sale, said the “tent camp” idea isn’t a viable solution for her either. Willams is an event planner in Ketchum.

“I think of myself and what I do for a living. Basic electricity to charge a phone, or working from a laptop,” Williams said. “What does that look like tomorrow if I was asked to live in a tent on a campground, and I think it is heartbreaking.”

Krzysztof Gilaroski, who held a rally last month about the lack of affordable housing in the area, said if people who are currently camping in Sawtooth National Forest were allowed to camp inside the city, it would show the community how serious the problem is.

“It wouldn’t be hidden from our community,” Gilarowski.

Williams said the affordable housing crisis in the community is not a lack of units, it is the vacation rental websites that have caused the root of the problem.

During the meeting, the city council discussed options for incentivizing residents who live in Ketchum part-time and using their homes as short-term rentals through Airbnb to convert them into long-term rentals for the local workforce.

“I think that is a great idea for now. There are a lot of places that sit empty. There are a lot of displaced people,” said Gilarowski. “and the short-term rental properties I still think that we have to look at a way to regulate this market.”

Williams said a solution that she and her business partner at Gold-Whip are exploring is a matching program where they would match people in the community who have an Airbnb or a vacation rental with those in need of housing. She said they would like to launch the program on their company website, hopefully by the end of Summer.

“On Gold-Whip we have a mailer listed on that website. We are hoping to collect email addresses and information for people who want to be updated when we can launch this matching program,” Williams said.

She said the current working name for the platform is “Adopt a Local ’', and they are working with many people in the community, including city council members, to get it up and running as soon as possible.

Some mid-term options the council looked at included transitioning commercial space into a hostel and zoning changes to reduce minimum lot sizes or any other barriers that increase market housing options.

Long-term solutions included development possibilities of city-owned land and partnership options with Blaine County. Land acquisition options and public-private partnerships continue to be explored.

There is currently a 56 unit affordable housing project in the works called Bluebird Village. Gilarowski is optimistic that the discussions that are happening now would lead to more community support for more affordable housing projects in the future.

However, Gilaroski said he was disappointed with the turnout for Monday’s meeting. He hopes more people in support of affordable housing come to more meetings in the future because there are people with deep pockets who don’t want affordable housing next to their property.

“If people don’t show up and there is opposition it is going to be very easy for people to buckle,” said Gilarowski. “Today (Monday) I had to pick up kids from school. I have work, and I am going back to work. I was here. Show up.”

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