Sunday, May 19, 2019
ARCH Director Says Blaine County Needs an Attitude Adjustment
Sun Valley Marketing Director Mike Fitzpatrick said Sun Valley Resort likes to think it’s helping with the affordable housing problem by building two new dorms as many Sun Valley employees also work at places like the Pioneer Restaurant.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018


When Michelle Griffith looks at providing affordable housing in Blaine County, she sees past the dollar signs to what she says is an even bigger problem: Attitude.

Some people don’t want to live next to certain other people. Some don’t want to live next to anyone at all. Those complaining about annexations are living in neighborhoods that were once open space.

 And some people have an underlying sense that someone has done something wrong if they’re struggling or need housing assistance, she added.

If we could change attitudes—and raise the $17 million being used to built Mountain Humane’s animal shelter in Croy Canyon--we could solve the affordable housing problem, she told those attending a recent State of the Cities meeting focusing on workforce housing.

That kind of money would build 90 units and rent from those units could be used to build more housing, making future housing development self-sustaining, she added.

“We don’t need another study to know whether we need 300 or 500 units—that’s irrelevant,” she added. “We need to be building more housing. We don’t need a study to tell us we need to do it. We don’t need another study to show how far off the mark we are.”

About 75 community leaders and business people attended the morning meeting held at The Mint in Hailey.

Idaho Lumber Owner and Chamber President Todd Hunter opened the discussion, noting that many of his 30 employees travel from places like Gooding and Shoshone.

And, while his payroll is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than payrolls of similar businesses in the Magic Valley, he can’t pay the wages that would allow them to closer to their places of work.

“Vince Lombardi once said that individual commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work,” the Chamber president said. “The problem of providing workforce housing is not going to go away if we sit back. I hope as a community we can lock arms, support local businesses where we can.”

Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle noted that his city has just $70,000 in its discretionary funds, leaving it no way to provide affordable housing once the streets have been plowed and the parks cleaned.

“$70,000 is not much when you consider a blade on a snow-plow costs $100,000,” he said. “The only way we could provide for affordable housing is through a levy or a bond. And I can’t ask Hailey residents to pass a bond for other’s people’s housing when they’re fighting for their own lives.”

That said, Haemmerle noted, the city leased land to the ARCH Community Housing Trust for the River Street senior apartments, which currently have a five-year waiting list. It’s just enacted zoning changes eliminating maximum housing-unit densities per acre downtown that could pique the interest of developers, as well, he added.

Time will tell if developers will try small housing that could bring back Millennials, he said.

“I know private companies have provided affordable housing for their employees—that might be a way to go,” he added.

Lisa Horowitz, Hailey community development director, said 27 deed-restricted units will be included in the new Quigley Farm development near Wood River High School. And, she added, the city may soon address the possibility of expanding accessory dwelling units.

Coming on line is the new Barkin’ Basement in the old Hailey Hotel. It will have three pet-friendly units for employees of Mountain Humane. The liquor store is expanding to add employee units. There’s also an eight-plex going in on Shenandoah Drive and a residential unit on Woodside.

“We’ve added 80 housing units in the last five years so we feel pretty good about that,” she added.

Bellevue Community Development Director Diane Shay said her city approved nine accessory dwelling units this past year and city officials are starting to talk about tiny houses.

“Our minimum lots are now 6,000 square feet, but we’re going to start talking about 3,000 square feet. People are living in smaller spaces,” she said. “To be a great city it must be livable. When we started, Bellevue was affordable housing. Now it needs affordable housing.”

Two hundred people are on a waiting list for workforce and deed-restricted housing, said Blaine County Housing Authority Executive Director Nathan Harvill. That list is one to two years long.

Griffith said her Advocates for Real Community Housing has developed 60 homes with four new housing units under construction since 2009. Two projects are in litigation, including one on Buttercup Road that is being blocked by a neighbor. (The complainant says the issue is not affordable housing but the fact that the parcel was deeded to the county in perpetuity as open space of for future recreational use to be determined by the county and Blaine County Recreational District.)

ARCH housing is available to households earning 80 percent or less of area median income. In Blaine County that’s $61,750 or less for a family of four. The average person working in hospitality and leisure makes $25,324 a year. The average construction worker, just over $42,000.

“So you can see we have a tremendous gap,” Griffith said. “Blaine County is the 27th most unequal county in America with the top 1 percent earning an average $1.6 million a year and the other 99 percent earning an average $77,353 a year.

Jackson, Wyo., sits in the most unequal county with the top 1 percent earning $16.1 million a year and the other 99 percent earning $122,447 annually.

Forty percent of Blaine County residents are housing burdened, meaning they spend more than a third of their earnings on housing.

Jackson and Aspen have more affordable housing than Sun Valley, but they have more population and a greater gap,” she said, wryly noting that people might better understand the problem if every housing-burdened person stayed home from work for a day.

One attendee noted that Twin Falls’ growth may keep many of its employees at home rather than make the 90-minute drive to Sun Valley.

“When 45 percent of our work force does not live here, we’re not a healthy community,” noted Joan Davies. “They’re going back to their community, giving back to their community.

Jeff Anderton, a former building contractor, said cities could help their cause by reducing minimum rights-of-way and parking and snow storage requirements. And, they could also eliminate the necessity for sidewalks on both sides of the streets.

Realtors could give a little, too, he added.

“I have to chuckle when I hear that the Sun Valley Board of Realtors supports affordable housing when I’m working on a 10 percent margin and their 6 percent sales commission is equal to 50 percent to 60 percent of my gross profit,” he said. “And 30-year mortgages don’t cut it anymore. We need 35- to 40-year mortgages to make this work.”


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