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The latest on affordable housing initiatives in Ketchum

People sitting in scattered chairs listen to speaker talk about affordable housing in a Ketchum downtown square.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
More than 100 people gathered in downtown Ketchum last spring to advocate for more affordable housing in the resort town.

About a year after advocates and concerned citizens gathered in Ketchum’s town square to demand action on affordable housing, city staff presented an action plan to the council with a plethora of to-do items for the years ahead.

There is a “massive” shortage of affordable housing in Ketchum, staff said. Census data shows residential construction has slowed overall since the 1990s and the proportion of long-term rentals in the community has declined substantially since 1970, while short-term rentals have increased.

One percent of residents are experiencing homelessness, a county-wide housing survey with about 1,000 respondents found.

Carissa Connelly, Ketchum’s housing strategist, said the city needs between 660 and 982 homes over the next decade to become available. That could be achieved by building new units, converting existing units to a more affordable cost or by preserving existing housing in perpetuity.

Through open forums, targeted conversations and surveys, the team highlighted key targets to achieve over the next decade. They include:

  • Secure a minimum of 650 units in Ketchum for local, workforce housing
  • Ensure that at least 60% of Ketchum’s housing stock is owner- or  long-term renter-occupied
  • Ensure that 40% of Ketchum’s workforce can live in Ketchum 
  • Allocate 20% of city housing funds for county-wide actions

Each goal has a series of action steps. The housing team will present its final version of the action plan to the city council on May 9.

Council sends emergency zoning ordinance back to planning

The council tabled an emergency zoning ordinance Monday passed by the planning and zoning commission to increase high-density housing and preserve the vibrancy of the downtown core. It would have established minimum residential densities in certain zones, regulated the consolidation of lots in certain areas and prohibited new developments from reducing the number of housing units.

City planners described it as a reaction to a substantial number of building projects in the pipeline with a smaller number of units – like single-family homes or penthouses – in areas that are intended for higher density, such as apartments.

“Our free market isn’t really meeting the needs of what our community has said that we need to be able to thrive long-term,” said Senior Planner Morgan Landers.

The development and real estate community gave lots of pushback to the ideas.

“You’ve not been presented with any credible analysis that tells us or you how the outcomes that may result from this ordinance will impact the needs of our community,” said Bob Crosby, the governmental affairs director for the Sun Valley Board of Realtors.

Council members seemed to favor the proposed zoning changes but sent the ordinance back to the planning and zoning commission because some did not like that it was presented as an emergency ordinance. The new rules could come back before the council this summer.

Costs rise for Ketchum affordable housing project

The city agreed to more than double its contribution to the 51 unit Bluebird Village community housing project after the developer, GMD Development, reported an increased cost estimate to the council earlier this month. Now instead of dedicating $1.4 million from the in-lieu housing fund, Ketchum will contribute $3.3 million according to a letter of intent the council agreed to sign during Monday’s council meeting.

The developer said construction costs, including labor and materials, have increased since the submission of the tax credit application to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, while Blaine County’s median income fell by about 5% during the pandemic.

That means the project is more expensive to construct and the developers aren’t expecting to collect as much as they anticipated in rent. The developer asked the city to cover some of the expected gap amounts from the in-lieu housing fund.

Raising taxes for housing is on the ballot

A measure on the May 17 ballot asks whether voters want to support dedicating some local option tax revenue to workforce housing initiatives and whether to okay an increase to the tax rates on retail goods, building materials, lodging, short-term rentals and liquor. City staff estimated the increases would generate about $3 million annually for workforce housing. The proposed local option tax change needs 60% of voter support to pass.

Correction: This story originally said the local option tax measure needs two-thirds of voter support to pass.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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