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Tents, Empty Hotel Rooms Among Suggestions to Fight Workforce Housing Shortage
Wednesday, June 2, 2021


A tent city in a Ketchum park? An RV park on a city parking lot?

Nothing was off the table when the City of Ketchum held a hastily called workshop on workforce this weekend in Ketchum Town Square—one week after the Occupy Ketchum rally for workforce housing.

And, even though there was little advance notice, the workshop pulled in a hundred spectators and participants eager to brainstorm short-term and long-term solutions. It was more than the three or 30 Mayor Neil Bradshaw thought they might get

Head of Community School Ben Pettit is among those who has been consumed with finding solutions to affordable housing.

While the school started an affordable housing initiative a few years ago, it was this year that staff came smack up against reality.

Eight staff members were displaced this year after landlords turned their rentals into Airbnbs, sold them to take advantage of the ultra-hot market or doubled their rents. And as the Community School attempts to fill five positions for the next school year, the unavailability and unaffordability of housing has impacted how seriously candidates have considered a move to the area.

Typically, the school loses six to 12  of its 100 staffers each year.

“We’ve been able to find housing for all but one of those who were displaced with the help of people who had carriage houses, that kind of thing,” said Pettit. “But, while you can look at things like mortgages, it really comes down to the volume of housing available.”

Sun Valley Community School has formed a group to brainstorm solutions. And it’s working with other organizations to create more housing volume at reasonable prices.  It’s looking at school resources, endowment funds, even fundraising to attack the problem.

Petit said other schools in urban places have been facing this problem longer; mountain schools have felt it more intensely this year as people migrated to smaller towns during the pandemic.

“One thing we don’t want to do is snap up property and exacerbate the problem,” he said. “I think it will take partnering with developers to make headway.”

And Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Head Coach Rick Kapala sent out an SOS to the ski community on Tuesday looking for housing for a couple elite female skiers who are training with the program.The women are willing to pay rent, have their own vehicles and have jobs to complement their training.

"Normally, we are able to help them find housing in a standard condo rental or a private home where someone rents a mother-in-law type apartment. But the housing situation in our community has gone off the rails," he said.

Bradshaw was encouraged by what he heard at this weekend’s workshop.

“We had a lot of people sharing ideas supportive of exploring a number of different options. A lot of it focused on short-term solutions: Can we use parking lot for RV parking? Can we use open space for tents?” he said.

Several of those present talked about their situations. A restaurant owner, for instance, described having to scale back restaurant hours if one employee had to leave due to lack of housing. 

The problem isn’t isolated to the Sun Valley area. Rodolfo Serva of KB’s Burritos said he had to close KB’s in Meridian two days of the week because the housing shortage in that area has made it difficult to get employees. The Boise area currently sports the fastest rising rental market in the nation.

Those present praised short-term solutions. But some also said the legislature needs to step up to the plate. Legislators could, for instance, repeal the ban on local governments regulating short-term rentals.

Others suggested putting empty hotel rooms to use.

Bradshaw suggested that homeowners who offer lodging for Sun Valley Music Festival musicians might have other lodging they would be willing to make available for summer employees.

And he said, the city needs to work with the Senior Connection to determine if there are seniors who would like to offer a room in their house for rent or in exchange for household chores, such as mowing the lawn.

Bradshaw said there’s been talk of allowing workforce to park tents in Ketchum’s Rotary Park across from the Wood River Community YMCA. There’s also been talk of allowing campers and trailers to park in the Second Avenue Parking lot across from the Limelight Hotel.

The camping would not be open to just anyone, Bradshaw said. Campers would have to show that they are employed in the valley.

Bradshaw said the City Council will discuss on Monday, June 7, how they can put together a conditional use permit to allow, for example, a worker to park his RV in a friend’s driveway. The council meeting will start at 4 p.m.

“We’ll put more formal proposals in front of the council on June 7,” he said.

Bradshaw noted that some people are frustrated about the pace of addressing workforce housing.

“We’ve done quite a lot on workforce housing, but we’ve hit some roadblocks,” Bradshaw said. “We’ve haven’t had the community support in the past. So, it’s great to see that now coming out because that will help the decision making. We have always seen how this community rallies around any cause it knows about. So, hopefully, they will rally around this.”


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