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Ketchum Considering City Camping, Other Short-Term Housing Options

A spread-out crowd sits in a plaza in downtown in Ketchum to hear people speak about adorable housing challenges.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
More than 100 people gathered in downtown Ketchum in late May for a peaceful demonstration in support of affordable housing.

Kate Riley is 66 years old and the caretaker of a 90-year-old woman in Blaine County. Her rent was recently raised and now the property is on the market. She said workers are the threads that hold the community together.

“We desperately need an immediate situation,” she said during the Ketchum City Council meeting Monday night. “A tent camp is not a solution, but an embarrassment.”

Riley said Tuesday morning her Hailey landlord emailed to give her a 30-day notice to be out of the apartment.

"I have no idea where I'm headed," she wrote in an email.

Ketchum council members acknowledged there’s been a lot of pushback to creating a “tent city” in a city park to solve immediate housing needs. The idea was floated by the mayor a few weeks ago at a community housing workshop.

But they said the problem is dire and resources are needed now for people without a place to live.

In 2020, 150 people reached out to the Blaine County Housing Authority in search of an affordable living situation. This year, the number of those in need is already at 300, according to the housing authority director Nathan Harvill. The organization manages a temporary housing unit — which is currently full, and has a waitlist.

“I think it’s just how can we offer resources to those members of our community who are working in our town and serving our population,” said Councilmember Courtney Hamilton. She suggested the city could provide shower trailers for people who camp, and she emphasized this plan is temporary.

Niels Meyer, a co-owner of Sawtooth Mountain Guides, supported the idea of the city designating a spot for campers or RVs.

“I think these short-term solutions will not only help our community, but also help relieve the pressure on, and help preserve, our public lands in Ketchum that are being pretty heavily relied on for camping, and definitely being abused,” he said.

City staff said allowing camping in a downtown park could require a significant amount of staff time to operate. An administrator said they might even need to provide security.

Ultimately, the council decided to move away from locating a tenting area at a specific city park, but several council members wanted city staff to explore other locations.

“Let’s keep looking at other places because we don’t need to push people up into the mountains so we hide it more,” said Councilmember Michael David.

Other short-term solutions the council supported included creating a permitting process for people to park RVs on public or private property and using federal funds to help people pay for first and last month rent deposits.

The city is considering a list of mid- and long-term housing solutions that range from zoning changes to converting some short-term rentals to the long-term rental pool.

Mayor Neil Bradshaw also said it is a “high priority” for the city to do a legal analysis on the 2017 Idaho law that prohibits cities from regulating short-term rentals, "except in circumstances necessary to safeguard public health and welfare."

In the past, the city has regularly cited the law as a barrier to addressing the proliferation of short-term rentals, but Bradshaw said it might have an opportunity to do more.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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