It was the anniversary of an event that some Ketchum residents hoped would change enough to not warrant a reboot, but it didn’t.
About a year after a group of frustrated citizens gathered in Ketchum for a rally in support of affordable housing development – called Occupy Ketchum Town Square – people gathered again Sunday in downtown Ketchum to defend the cause.
This time the event – called Occupy Ketchum Town Square Redux – had a more upbeat tenor, with organizer Krzysztof Gilarowski and speakers acknowledging that progress has been made over the past 12 months and that more opportunities lie ahead. the horizon. Still, the affordable housing crisis in Blaine County has not abated, Gilarowski said, and residents must continue to press for action.
“The housing crisis is still with us,” said Gilarowski, deputy manager of the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum. “He’s been with us for years. And the time has come to solve it.
Last May’s rally was a catalyst for some elected officials, nonprofits and developers to take action, he noted, but the shortage of affordable housing is still acute. Some Wood River Valley residents live in their cars, he said, and many have moved on, unable to find housing.
Gilarowski – who lives in the Northwood Place affordable housing development in Ketchum – told a crowd of several dozen people in Town Square that he believed the private market would not solve the problem, which has worsened in recent years due to the low supply of rental housing. promote exorbitant rents, and many second home owners choose to keep units as short-term vacation rentals.
Should local workers and residents be forced out of town to make room for Airbnb units, Gilarowski asked. No, he concluded, because communities are made of people, not buildings.
“The time to act is now, before our community disappears,” he said.
Blanca Romero Green, program manager for the nonprofit Hunger Coalition and Blaine County School District board member, told the crowd that the school district is struggling to attract and retain staff, largely due to a lack of affordable housing. The district had 46 vacancies as of the end of last week, she said.
In addition, Romero Green said, about 20 working-class families who live in the McHanville neighborhood south of Ketchum are facing relocation. Residents of the J&J Trailer Park and Blue Haven properties must move out by May 31, the landlord ordered, to allow for the development of a new, higher-density workforce housing project. Some will likely have to leave the area, she said.
Community activist Herbert Romero said he knows families in Wood River Valley who are forced to sleep in their cars or live in other non-traditional lifestyles, such as multiple families living in one house. The community needs to look after its working residents, he said, including those who are being asked to leave McHanville.
“They have earned the right to be here,” he said.
Ketchum Councilman Michael David, who has been unable to find stable housing for about three years, addressed the crowd as a self-proclaimed “homeless person”. Blaine County Clerk Stephen McDougall Graham said he and his family have been forced to move three times in 18 months, unable to find suitable rental accommodation for less than $2,500 a month.
“We have a five-alarm fire,” he said.
Ketchum is considering tax changes to fix the problem
While the shortage of affordable housing in the Wood River Valley has roots that go back decades, it has been considered a “crisis” in recent years by many elected officials and analysts as conditions reached breaking point. give birth to Occupy Town Square and other grassroots organizations. movements. Partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what was already a major problem has been exacerbated by soaring property prices and an influx of new residents. Rents have doubled or tripled, according to residents, some vacant units have been taken up by newcomers and long-term rental properties have been sold or converted to short-term rentals. Inventories plummeted, some people moved elsewhere, and labor shortages ensued.
One of the main goals of the rally on Sunday was to garner support for a City of Ketchum initiative to raise local sales taxes to fund a variety of programs aimed at developing new affordable housing, preserving affordable housing that exist and to bring some existing market rate or underutilized units into the affordable pool. Ketchum has developed a detailed plan that aims to meet the city’s estimated need for 660 to 980 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. Some funding sources exist, but the projects – which will inevitably range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars – are generally not yet funded.
One of the main sources of funding could come from changes to the city’s local option taxes – changes that Ketchum citizens are being asked to vote on in the May 17 election. If voters approve the proposal, it could add some $2.8 million to LOT’s annual revenue — a projection based on last fiscal year’s revenue — that would be used exclusively for affordable housing initiatives.
Currently, eligible uses of Ketchum LOT funds include transportation, recreation, capital improvements, emergency services, promoting the town to visitors, property tax relief, and collection costs. and the application of taxes. Home projects are not an approved use.
The city collects a 3% LOT on room sales (including hotel rooms and short-term rentals), a 3% LOT on consumer alcohol sales, and a 2% LOT on general retail sales and building materials (but excluding groceries). The city is authorized by the state to collect taxes through a law that allows small resort towns to tax specific sales categories to offset in their budgets the financial impacts of hosting large numbers of visitors. The city has estimated that visitors pay approximately 72% of local option taxes in Ketchum.
Percentages include a 1% LOT in the same sales areas collected as part of a voter-approved initiative to support commercial air service in the Wood River Valley. These tax funds are set aside and transferred monthly to the Sun Valley Air Service Board, which allocates the funds to subsidize and market commercial flights to Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.
The May 17 ballot proposes to amend the city’s LOT law to allow the city to use LOT funds on affordable housing initiatives and fund the initiatives through percentage point tax increases from 0.75% on retail sales, 2% on accommodation, 2% on consumer alcohol and 1% on building materials.
According to state law, changing the city’s LOT law will require the approval of at least 60% of Ketchum voters.
If approved, the amendment to the law would increase the city’s LOT percentages to 2.75% on retail sales, 3% on building materials, and 5% on lodging and liquor. When added to the 6% state sales tax (and other lodging taxes), Ketchum would have an 8.75% retail sales tax, a 9% materials tax construction, an 11% tax on alcoholic beverages and a 13% tax on lodging and short-term rentals.
The current City General LOT approval lasts until the end of 2027. The so-called “1% for Air” tax is approved until the end of 2023. Voters must renew the taxes for them to continue to be collected beyond these dates.
Activists advocate for LOT housing
Gilarowski strongly encouraged Ketchum residents to vote in favor of the LOT changes and encourage others to do the same. It’s worth paying 20 cents more on a $10 cocktail or 75 cents more on a $100 retail purchase, he said, to help keep people housed and the community vibrant.
Bold action is needed, Gilarowski said. Services could be limited to the community pool where he takes his family due to a shortage of lifeguards, he said, while condominiums in Ketchum sell for $4.5 million, an entry price that only an elite can afford.
“We are slowly selling our community for $4.5 million worth of condos,” he said.
However, Gilarowski suggested, real estate prices would likely drop if the area continued to lose teachers, service workers and volunteers, negatively changing the character of the community.
Bartender and graphic designer Matt Gorby, a 27-year-old resident, said he’d rather pay a little extra at a party “knowing my waiter doesn’t have to drive [50 miles] in Shoshone at 10:30 p.m.
“Yes [the LOT] doesn’t pass,” he said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Spencer Cordovano, a Ketchum filmmaker and property manager who sits on the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said the goal of having tourists pay the majority of the proposed new taxes is appropriate, but residents must also contribute. to solve the problem.
“We all have to contribute to our community,” he said.
Ketchum City Councilor Amanda Breen said she fears her 10-year-old son and his colleagues face an uncertain future in the town unless leaders take “really bold” action.
“Workers of Ketchum, unite,” she said.
Mayor Neil Bradshaw praised Occupy Town Square movement organizers for bringing public attention to the housing crisis and garnering support for the 51-unit Bluebird Village affordable housing project on East Avenue, one block away of the gathering. The city approved the Bluebird Village project last year and construction is expected to begin later this spring.
“Let’s say yes to housing,” Bradshaw said.
In Part 2 of the series: An examination of the causes of the Blaine County housing crisis, its severity and its impacts.