A town housing crisis exposed the ‘House of Cards’

Hailey, Idaho — Near the private jets that shuttle billionaires to their lavish Sun Valley getaways, Anna Ramon Bartolome and her family have spent this summer in the only place available to them: a blue in a two-car garage. Behind the colored tarp.

With no refrigerator, the extended family of four adults and two young children store products on plywood shelves. Without a sink, they wash dishes and wash themselves in a nearby park. With no bedrooms, six of them sleep on three single mattresses on the floor.

“I’m very worried, sad and scared,” said Ms. Bartolome, who makes her living in the homes of wealthy residents but can’t afford even the cheapest accommodation at the famous ski-and-golf playground.

Resort towns have long struggled with how to keep their workers, but in places like Sun Valley those challenges have become a crisis as the gap between those with two homes and those with two jobs widens. Has been. Rents have soared over the past two years, in part of a pandemic migration affecting the region’s limited housing supply, leaving valuable workers living in trucks, trailers or tents.

It is not just a struggle for service personnel. A program director at the YMCA is living in a camper on a piece of land in Hailey. A high school principal in Carey was living in a camper but then upgraded to a small apartment in an industrial building. In Ketchum, a member of the city council is tossing between the homes of friends and family, unable to afford their own space. A small business owner in Sun Valley spends every night driving down dirt roads in the woods, parking his box truck under trees, and settling in for the night.

Housing shortages are now threatening to cripple a thriving economy and cherished sense of community. The hospital, school district and sheriff’s office have each bailed on job offers to potential employees, after realizing that the cost of living was unsustainable. The fire department covering Sun Valley has launched a $2.75 million fund-raising campaign to build housing for its firefighters.

Already, restaurants unable to hire enough service personnel are closing or reducing hours. And the problems are beginning to spread to other businesses, said Michael David, a Ketchum council member who has been working on housing issues for the past two decades.

“It’s kind of a house of cards,” he said. “It’s close to fall.”

Built as a destination ski resort to reflect the iconic winter appeal of the Alps, the Sun Valley region developed into an exclusive enclave to attract the rich and famous, Hollywood celebrities, Washington’s political elite, and Wall Street’s business giants. Many of whom gather each year for Allen & Company’s annual Media Finance Conference, known as the “summer camp for billionaires”. They’ve scoured desirable vacation properties nestled next to winter ski lodges and summer golf courses, away from the hustle and bustle of their home towns.

With the onset of the pandemic, the region saw an influx of wealthy buyers looking for a place to work from home with plenty of amenities, and migration pushed up housing costs even more. In Ketchum, a town next to Sun Valley, officials found that home prices have increased by more than 50 percent over the past two years, with the average reaching $1.2 million. Two bedroom rents went from less than $2,000 a month to more than $3,000.

Those setbacks came after two decades of minimal residential construction in the city and a dramatic shift in recent years that transformed tenant-occupied units into units that were either largely vacant by their owners or short-lived. was used as a rental.

Similar trends are happening in the resort towns of the Rocky Mountain West, including Jackson Hole, Vayo, Aspen, Colo., and Whitefish, Mont. Although some large employers, including the Sun Valley Company, have developed dorm-style living options for seasonal workers, they have done little to change the housing trajectory for wider communities.

People filed into a regional food bank in Bellevue, Idaho, one recent afternoon, ordering boxes of food from a warehouse stocked with grains, fresh produce and Idaho potatoes. A family there said they were being evicted from the trailer park where they live because the land was being redeveloped. They were unable to find a new place and were apprehensive about what was happening next.

Brooke Pace McKenna, a leader of the Hunger Coalition that runs the food bank, said the food bank has experienced a surge in demand over the past two years, serving approximately 200 families each week, growing to around 500.

“More and more, we are seeing teachers, policemen, the fire department,” Ms McKenna said.

Kayla Burton grew up in the Sun Valley area and moved after high school more than a decade ago. When she returned to work as a high school principal last year, she and her husband, a teacher, were shocked at how hard it was to find a place to live. Home prices were spiraling out of control, she said, even for places that were in dire need of repair. When rent became available, the property was filled with applicants. The couple tried to carve out their own space, but found the cost was out of reach.

Ms. Burton and her husband moved into a camper at their parents’ property. The couple has since managed to find a unit without air conditioning inside an industrial building, leading them to wonder if this is the kind of place they’d want to start a family.

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

Some job applicants are unwilling to take this step, there are now 26 job openings in this area’s school district, some that have been unfinished for months. The district is working on a plan to develop seven affordable housing units for the employees.

Gretchen Gorham, co-owner of Johnny G’s Subshack sandwich shop in Ketchum, said that while it was important to find housing for firefighters, teachers and nurses, she was also concerned about the vehicles, equipment and the many people who service the homes.

This year, Ketchum officials asked voters to approve a tax increase for affordable housing for hundreds of workers over the next 10 years. It didn’t pass.

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

Field officials are reaching out for a Band-Aid solution. In Hailey, city rules prohibit RVs from being parked on private property for more than 30 days, but council members have agreed not to enforce those rules for now; As a result, RVs can be seen in driveways and side yards throughout the city. In Ketchum, the authorities considered opening a tent city for workers, but decided against the idea.

So in an area whose main asset is its magnificent forest, some people have taken refuge in the forest.

Aaron Clark, 43, who owns a window washing business, lost his long-term rent this spring when the landlord sold the property for more than Mr. Knowing the exorbitant cost of all the other options around him, Mr. Clarke moved to the box truck he uses to shuttle his ladders and laundry equipment.

Inside the truck, it has a bed and cabinets, and it recently added features like a sink with running water and solar power. He also had a refrigerator, so he no longer needs to restock an icebox for his meals. From behind is a shower hose with hot water.

Every night, when he is done, he goes to the forest to park for the night. One recent day, he found a spot next to a stream at the end of a potholed dirt road, where he spent some time assessing the cryptocurrency market on his computer and then played with his dog to play. Mr Clark said he has found joy in the lifestyle, which has at least allowed him to save when he eventually re-enters the housing market.

But it has its own challenges.

“It’s a creek, every day, it decides, ‘Where am I going to park, where am I going to go? he said. “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 region, about one-quarter to one-half are living in difficult conditions, said Herbert Romero, co-founder of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a group that works with the community. He said he has seen 10 people living in two-bedroom mobile homes. Others are living on the couch. Some are living in vehicles.

Ricky Williams, 37, grew up in the area before moving away and starting his career in firefighting. A year earlier, he and his wife made plans to return to the Sun Valley area, anticipating the high cost of living, but were still unprepared for what they would find.

He remembered checking out a dilapidated home that was on the market for $750,000—beyond his budget with him as a full-time firefighter and his wife as a small-business owner—and that The day was crowded with potential buyers. available for viewing. He said the couple was lucky to find one of the fire department’s existing housing units, which was paying a discounted rent to live next to a fire station in exchange for being on call outside regular working hours.

Mr Williams said he feared what was happening to his hometown as he saw people moving away and out of price.

“This has affected many of my friends and family,” he said. “I’m back in this community here to give back to the community. And I see it slowly going down. It’s quite heartbreaking.”

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