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Ketchum ballot proposal for workforce housing fails

A sign in Ketchum says "Vote NO for a 3rd LOT Tax!"
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
A sign in Ketchum urges voters to not support a measure to increase the local option tax for workforce housing.

A ballot measure in Ketchum that would’ve increased the local option tax for workforce housing failed to get enough support Tuesday night.

About 53% of voters supported raising the taxes on retail, liquor, building materials, hotels and short-term rentals in the resort city for a specific workforce housing fund, but the city needed 60% of voter approval.

That means Ketchum is faced with tackling its long-standing lack of affordable housing without the $3 million annually it was hoping for.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, there was always going to be a lot of work, but now it’ll look a bit different because of the funding constraints,” said Carissa Connelly.

She worked to develop a housing action plan for the past six months, which the city council adopted. It says Ketchum needs between roughly 600 and 1,000 housing units over the next decade to keep up with growth and demand.

The plan lays out different strategies to get there – whether through new construction, preserving existing housing as affordable, or converting short-term vacation rentals to long-term ones for local workers.

But Connelly said following Tuesday’s election results, the city will have a hard time funding some of the programs on its wishlist.

It would need at least $1 million to set up a program to purchase deed restrictions on existing housing to keep it affordable, for example.

“You need recurring funds so that when you’re creating this infrastructure and setting up a program, you know you’ll have some funding for it in the following years,” Connelly said.

Michael David, a city council member, was disappointed in the election result, but he said he wasn’t surprised.

“Unless you’ve directly experienced the anxiety of losing your home, or trying to find a home, or being faced with the prospect of having to move out or be homeless, you may not understand the seriousness of this issue,” he said.

He’s been on the council for about ten years, and before that, worked at the Blaine County Housing Authority. He’s also not had stable housing himself for the past five years.

David said that Ketchum only started to come to terms with its lack of affordable housing recently, as members of the workforce and some full-time residents left the valley.

He wants to keep up the momentum he’s felt from the broad consensus around town that affordable housing is an issue that needs to be tackled, but said it might be tough for him personally. He said he’s seen many “good ideas” like the LOT changes get shut down.

“We’re going to jump back into the busy season here in a couple weeks. And again, we’re going to see the problem of not having a workforce – sufficient workforce,” David said.

Mallory Walker, who took out several ads in the Idaho Mountain Express against the LOT measure, was surprised it was shot down. He said he felt the city was pushing it heavily.

He said he intends to bring ideas forward to tackle the issue in ways he thinks make sense. He disapproves of the Bluebird Village project.

In the meantime, there are parts of the housing action plan that can likely move forward.

For example, the council has started discussing a “lease to locals” program, which would incentivize vacation rental owners to convert their properties to long-term rentals. Ketchum would need to contribute a minimum of $500,000 to set up that program.

There could be enough one-time funds to make that happen if the council approves. Connelly said the city will also move forward with trying to work with private philanthropic funds and employers to open up more housing options.

Connelly said Ketchum does intend to bring a modified version of the LOT measure for workforce housing back on a future ballot. Per state code, the earliest that could happen is next May.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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