Community August 1, 2022

Gimme Shelter

Ketchum’s new Housing Action Plan addresses housing crisis

Ketchum—nay, all of Blaine County—is in a housing crisis. Most businesses in town have “Help Wanted” signs in their windows and have had to cut their hours back, locals complain of being evicted so their landlords can Airbnb their spot, and things reached a dire point last summer when the city of Ketchum proposed converting city parks into “tent cities.” Ketchum’s housing crisis has been decades in the making but has been exacerbated by Ketchum’s recent population growth: typical growth for the area in past years has been one percent, but between 2019 and 2020, the population grew by 25 percent. Ketchum is losing its workforce and many year-round residents because they either can’t afford to live here or, even if they can, there’s no housing inventory.

To address both immediate needs as well as projected needs in the next 10 years, the City of Ketchum has developed a Housing Action Plan (HAP), a coordinated approach with short-, mid-, and long-term goals and projects. Since a range of factors (economic, social, etc.) have contributed to the current crisis, it’s only fitting that the solutions are just as wide-ranging; actions in the plan include rental assistance, incentives for converting to long-term rentals, preserving existing affordable housing, homeownership assistance, new housing development, and zoning changes.

The first step to creating the HAP was collecting data during the fall of 2021. A meeting was held with the Housing Task Force, a cross section of 19 community members, and a housing survey was distributed to the community, which received over 1,100 responses. Based on its results, the city estimates that one percent of the population of Ketchum is already experiencing homelessness.

Ketchum Housing Strategist, Carissa Connelly, explains that the Housing Action Plan was drafted using these community responses as well as advice from comparable communities, housing best practices, and census data. “We took those these things and used them to identify and prioritize what tools will immediately address our needs,” says Connelly.

The HAP is divided into five goals, each of which includes its key target, strategies, and priorities for year one. Goal one—produce and preserve housing—involves priority actions including completing Bluebird Village, building a 10-year new construction housing pipeline, preserving and improving affordable housing at the Lift Tower Lodge, and working on policy related to ADUs. Goal two—expand and improve services to create housing stability—seeks to address the immediate needs of the unhoused and people at risk of displacement in the community by creating a range of emergency and supportive housing options and expanding eviction prevention services. Goals 3, 4, and 5—expand and leverage resources; inform, engage, and collaborate; and update policy to promote housing—have more long-term goals that are less tangible such as reviewing funding priorities and auditing existing code in relation to action plan goals.

“The Housing Action Plan is aligned to address our pressing crisis that we are facing as a community,” says Ketchum Mayor, Neil Bradshaw. “I’m delighted with the work Carissa and the rest of city staff have done, what Council has done, and what the Task Force has done because it is really good, hard work that’s going to make a difference, and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. We don’t want a binder that sits in the back of an office, we want actions we can point to that lead to more of our workforce being able to live in town. Every action makes a difference.”

A key factor to the success of the HAP is its collaborations with community organizations like the ARCH Community Housing Trust, Blaine County Housing Authority, Wood River Community Housing Trust, and more. Not only will these partnerships result in more support for actions in the plan, but there is also the hope to coordinate efforts to create a coherent, common source of information for housing county-wide. This involves a case worker who refers people to the different housing options, rather than someone going to each entity individually, and legal aid for eviction proceedings and mediation.

As for the cost of the HAP’s various initiatives, it’s been designed much like a menu with different price points; some are more expensive than others, and which ones can be implemented depends on what money is available. On the ballot in May was a ballot measure to possibly use the Local Option Tax (LOT) toward workforce housing, which would free up an addition $3 million. Funds can also come from the in-lieu housing budget (which was recently raised to $400 per square foot and is paid by developers in lieu of creating affordable housing) as well as federal strategic initiative funds.

“We’ve got a good cross section of different initiatives at different price points,” says Bradshaw.

In the spring, the HAP was finalized and presented to varying stakeholders including the Task Force, the other local counties, and implementation partners. Four in-person and one virtual open house were held as city-led focus groups and a public work session with City Council, P&Z, and the KURA Board. With the HAP now in place, it’s only a matter of deciding what, from the menu of options available, will move forward first.

Lease to Locals Program
The City of Ketchum is considering becoming the newest community to benefit from Landing Locals, a company started by former Airbnb marketers to facilitate the use of local government incentives to convert properties into longer-term rentals. By actively marketing to homeowners, Landing Locals incentivizes them to lease to a local resident who has been screened and matched to them using their online system. Incentives come from city funds and will be determined this summer, should the program launch.

Key 10-year Targets
• Secure a minimum of 650 new, converted, or preserved housing units in Ketchum
• Ensure at least 60 percent of Ketchum’s housing stock is owner- or long-term renter–occupied
• Ensure that 40 percent of Ketchum’s workforce can live in Ketchum
• Prevent displacement and assist 100 households annually who are cost-burdened, unstably housed, or unhoused with supportive services
• Secure a minimum $60 million in direct, local investments for housing actions
• Allocate 20 percent of City housing funds for significant county-wide actions

This article appears in the Summer 2022 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.