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Affordable housing is scarce in Ketchum. Voters are considering a tax to fund more of it

Two photos side-by-side: On the left, a hand holds a sign that reads, "People who work here should be able to live here!" On the right, Kris Gilarowski holds a speaker up to his mouth at a Ketchum LOT demonstration.
Occupy Ketchum Town Square
Kris Gilarowski lives and works in Ketchum, Idaho

Kris Gilarowski says it matters less how people in Ketchum vote in the May primary, and more that they engage in the conversation over affordable housing, or the lack thereof.

“If you don't support this initiative … or if you support this initiative … what we need you to do is come out and vote,” said Gilarowski. “Make your voice heard and participate in this local solution to a local problem.”

When Gilarowski speaks of “this initiative,” he’s referring to a line item on the May 17 ballot where Ketchum voters will consider a possible increase to the city’s local-option tax to help fund affordable housing projects.

Prior to a May 1rally aimed to bring greater awareness to the initiative, Gilarowski visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his own family’s challenge to find an affordable place to live and what he calls a growing “crisis” in his community.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. An assessment of housing in Ketchum indicates that the resort community needs somewhere between 700 and 980 homes in the next decade… just to keep up with growth. Now to some, that's a data point; but to a lot of people, that's reality. Kris Gilarowski is here. He works at the Limelight Hotel. He knows as well as anyone that a long-term rental is a significant challenge in Ketchum. Mr. Gularowski, good morning.

KRZYSZTOF GILAROWSKI: Good morning, George. Thank you for having me on Morning Edition.

PRENTICE: Remind our listeners about your family's story. Share that story… because I don't think it's that unusual.

GILAROWSKI: Well, I've been in Ketchum for six years, but I did marry an Idaho girl and she's from Twin Falls, Idaho. Her family's been in Twin Falls, Idaho, since the 1800s. And when we initially moved here, I've been in the hospitality industry, and when we initially moved here to Ketchum, Idaho, we didn't realize how hard the housing situation is. We moved here hoping to find some kind of housing for me and my growing family. But unfortunately, for the first two months that I was in Ketchum, I had to commute from Twin Falls to Ketchum to my job, because I had a really hard time to find housing. Now, this was five years ago when the housing situation was tough. But now, in the last five years, with the COVID crisis, with new people moving into the valley, the housing situation has really turned into a crisis. We are losing long term rentals and we are not replacing them. So, yeah. My story was that when I first moved into the Valley, I experienced that housing crisis and I had a 90-minute commute from Twin Falls, Idaho.

PRENTICE: Well, a group called Occupy Ketchum Town Square started a bit more than a year ago, to bring attention to this issue, and the imbalance of short term rentals versus long term rentals. You've gotten a lot of attention. But let me ask you this: How do you find that space… that space between a protest that may rub people the wrong way…and solutions… where you can get as many people as possible to understand this issue.

GILAROWSKI: And that's why Occupy Ketchum Town Square Group is here… to inform citizens. It's here to encourage citizens to come out, get involved with the city council, get involved in the editorial space… to get informed about what the housing crisis is. I think this is a great way to bring attention to the housing crisis and maybe get people involved that haven't thought about it. We are a small town of 3,000 people… and you can really get involved here with our local government. And that's what I'm calling people for. I started the Occupy Town Square not as much as a protest, but to give voice to the people affected by the housing crisis, and to inform them, and to encourage them to participate in local governance.

PRENTICE: So, what will be happening on May 1?

Occupty Town Square Ketchum

GILAROWSKI: On May 1, we're going to hold a one-year anniversary rally. It has been a year since we held the original one. And it's going to be once again… to let people know that this housing crisis has not disappeared. I'm still hearing stories out there that people are suffering.I'm still hearing stories of key members of the community that lived here for years, if not decades, that are struggling with the tough decision whether Ketchum and Blaine County is a community for them. And what I'm trying to do is shine the light on these people… and try to encourage people to see that this is a crisis, that that is not only affecting a selected few, it's affecting the whole community, whether it's the Blaine County School District, having trouble hiring teachers, whether it's St Luke's having a long list of open positions that they can't fill, or whether it's a local restaurant that has to close its doors because it can't staff properly. The crisis is still going on. We still need to show up to the city council meetings. We need to show up to the open houses. We need to participate in the local governance to find solutions to our housing crisis.

PRENTICE: Well, you're clearly getting people's attention because indeed, this issue is going to go before the citizens of Ketchum soon.

GILAROWSKI: I do encourage people to vote. There's going to be a vote about a LOT  tax. That's going to be on May 17

PRENTICE: And again… for our listeners…LOT is Local Option Tax.

GILAROWSKI: In Idaho, that's one of the few ways where a resort town can raise funds for local solutions. We do, in Idaho, have a Housing Trust Fund that doesn't get funded… so we can't wait for the legislature to come out and help us solve this issue. We've got to solve it locally. One of the options that City of Ketchum has is the LOT. The citizens of Ketchum will get to vote on it… on an increase on the LOT on May 17. But I also encourage people… we are in our “slack” season… so, if you're not going to be in town in Ketchum on May 17, you can also vote early - starting on May 2, going to May 13t, and that vote can be cast at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey. So, I encourage everybody, everybody, whether you are for housing, not for housing. If you don't support this initiative… or if you support this initiative… what we need you to do is come out and vote. Make your voice heard and participate in this local solution to a local problem.

PRENTICE: And he is Kris Gilarowski, an employee at the Limelight Hotel and a resident of Ketchum. And in the heart of the ongoing conversation regarding affordable housing – or the lack thereof – in the Wood River Valley, Kris, thank you so very much. Good luck to you and thanks for giving us some time this morning.

GILAROWSKI: You're welcome, George, and I thank you for bringing this issue to the listeners of NPR. Thank you for your time.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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