The housing crisis in a town reveals a ‘house of cards’

Anna Ramon Bartolome, who makes a living caring for the homes of wealthy residents, and her family in the sweltering garage where they live in Hailey, Idaho, July 20, 2022. (Natalie Bering/The New York Times)

Healy, Idaho — Near the private jets that fly billionaires to their lavish Sun Valley haven, Anna Ramon Bartolome and her family spent this summer in the only place they had: behind a blue tarp in a sweltering two-car garage.

With no fridge, the extended family of four adults and two young children keeps produce on plywood shelves. With no sink, they wash the dishes and themselves in the adjacent garden. With no bedrooms, the six of them sleep on three single mattresses on the floor.

“I am very anxious, depressed and afraid,” Bartolomei said.

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Resort cities have long struggled about how to house their workers, but in places like Sun Valley, these challenges have become a crisis as the gap between those with two homes and those with two jobs has widened. Driven in part by pandemic migration that has gutted the area’s limited supply of housing, rents have skyrocketed over the past two years, leaving overpriced workers living in trucks, trailers or tents.

Not only service workers are struggling to survive. A program manager at the YMCA lives in a wagon on a plot of land in Hili. A high school principal in Cary used to live in a carriage but then was upgraded to a small apartment in an industrial building. A city councilman in Ketchum shuttles between the homes of friends and family, unable to afford a place of his own. A small business owner in Sun Valley spends all night driving dirt roads in the wilderness, parking his pickup truck under trees and settling down for the night.

The housing shortage now threatens to cripple the booming economy and sense of community. Both the hospital, the school district and the mayor’s office have seen potential employees bail on job offers after they realize the cost of living is unaffordable. The fire department covering the Sun Valley has started a $2.75 million fundraising drive to build housing for firefighters.

Already, restaurants that are unable to hire enough service workers are closing or shortening hours. Michael David, a Ketchum board member who has been working on housing issues for the past two decades, said problems are starting to spread to other businesses.

He said, “It’s kind of like a house of cards.” “It’s close to a coup.”

Built as a ski resort to reflect the distinctive winter allure of the Alps, Sun Valley has grown into an exclusive area for the rich and famous, attracting Hollywood celebrities, political elites from Washington, D.C., and business giants from Wall Street, many of whom gather each year for Allen & Co’s annual media finance conference. , better known as “Billionaires Summer Camp”. They’ve acquired desirable vacation properties located next to winter ski lodges and summer golf courses, away from the staggering crowds of their home towns.

With the onset of the pandemic, the area saw an influx of affluent buyers looking for a destination to work from home with plentiful amenities, and immigration pushed up housing costs even more. In Ketchum, the town next to Sun Valley, officials have found that home prices have risen more than 50% over the past two years, with an average of about $1.2 million. Two-bedroom rentals have gone from under $2,000 a month to over $3,000.

The tremors came after two decades of scant residential construction in the city and a dramatic shift in recent years from tenant-occupied units to those whose owners remained largely vacant or were used as short-term rentals.

Similar trends are occurring in resort towns across the western Rockies, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Aspen, Colorado; and Whitefish, Montana. Although some large employers, including Sun Valley, have developed housing-style living options for seasonal workers, these have done little to alter housing trajectories for broader communities.

People came to a regional food bank in Bellevue, Idaho, one afternoon, ordering boxes of food from a pantry full of grains, fresh produce, and Idaho potatoes. One family there said they were kicked out of their trailer park because the land would be redeveloped. They could not find a new place and were afraid of what was to come next.

Brooke Pace McKenna, a leader at the Hunger Alliance, which runs the food bank, said the food bank has seen an increase in demand in the past two years, serving about 200 families each week to nearly 500 as the number continues to rise.

“We’re seeing more and more teachers, policemen, and the fire department,” McKenna said.

Kayla Burton grew up in the Sun Valley and moved after high school over a decade ago. When she returned last year to take a job as a high school principal, she and her husband, a teacher, were shocked by the difficulty of finding a place to live. She said home prices were spiraling out of control, even for places that were most in need of repairs. When rentals became available, real estate filled with applicants. The couple considered trying to build their own place but found the cost was out of reach.

Burton and her husband moved into a wagon with her parents’ property. The couple have since been able to find a unit inside an industrial building without air conditioning, which has them wondering if this is where they’d like to start a family.

“We’re in this weird spot in our lives right now,” she said.

With some job applicants unwilling to make the move, the district’s school district now has 26 job openings, some of which have been vacant for months. The county is working on plans to develop seven affordable housing units for employees.

Gretchen Gorham, co-owner of Johnny J. Spshak sandwich shop in Ketchum, said that while finding housing for firefighters, teachers and nurses was important, she was also concerned about the many people servicing vehicles, equipment and homes.

This year, Ketchum officials asked voters to agree to a tax increase to fund affordable housing for hundreds of workers over the next 10 years. did not pass.

“We live in the town of The Wizard of Oz,” Gorham said. “People say one thing, and then behind a closed curtain, they do another.”

District officials seek first aid solutions. In Haile, city rules prohibit recreational vehicles from parking on private property for more than 30 days, but council members agreed that those rules should not apply for now; As a result, recreational vehicles can be seen in driveways and side yards across the city. In Ketchum, officials considered opening a tent city for workers but rejected the idea.

Therefore, in an area whose main origins are the wonderful wilderness, some people have taken refuge in the forest.

Aaron Clark, 43, who owns a window washing business, lost his long-term rent last spring when the landlord sold the property for what Clark could afford. Knowing the exorbitant cost of all the other options around him, Clark moved to the box truck he uses to haul his ladders and laundry equipment.

Inside the truck, it has a bed and lockers, and has recently added amenities like a sink with running water and solar power. He’s also got a fridge, so he no longer has to restock the icebox for his food. On the back there is a shower hose with hot water.

Every night, when he’s done with work, he drives into the wilderness to park for the night. One recent day, he found a place at the end of a dirt road full of potholes, next to a stream, where he spent some time assessing the cryptocurrency market on his computer and then played fetch with his dog. Clark said he found joy in the lifestyle, which at least allowed him to save for when he eventually returned to the housing market.

But it has its challenges.

“It’s draining,” he said, “every day, you decide, ‘Where am I going to stand, where am I going?’ “You’re out of work, you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re dirty, and now you have to decide what you’re going to do next.”

For many Latino workers in the area, roughly a quarter to half live in difficult situations, said Herbert Romero, co-founder of Blaine County’s Latin American Leadership Task Force, a group that works with the community. He said he saw up to 10 people living in two-bedroom mobile homes. Others live on sofas. Some lived in chariots.

Ricky Williams, 37, grew up in the area before moving away and starting his career in firefighting. A year ago, he and his wife planned to return to the Sun Valley, anticipating the rising cost of living, but still not ready for what they would find.

He remembered that he was checking out a dilapidated house that was on the market for $750,000 – well beyond their budget as a full-time firefighter and his wife as a small business owner – and there was a rush of potential buyers the day he was. Available to view. He said the couple was fortunate to have one of the condominiums located in the fire department, and to pay a discounted rent to live next door to a fire station in exchange for calling outside normal business hours.

Williams said he feared what would happen in his hometown as he watched people drop prices and move away.

“It affected a lot of my friends and family,” he said. “I’ve come back to this community to give back to the community. And I see it’s kind of waning slowly. It’s very heartbreaking.”

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