Friday, October 15, 2004

Are Ketchum?s housing policies working?

Planning Department seeks to bring issue ?into the light?

Express Staff Writer

Harold Moniz

As the demand for affordable housing in Ketchum continues to dwarf the supply, city planners this week called for an examination of whether the city?s housing-related policies are effectively addressing the issue.

Harold Moniz, Ketchum planning director, asked the city Planning and Zoning Commission Monday to give an assessment of a new city report that indicates Ketchum currently has only 21 deed-restricted affordable-housing units.

An additional 23 affordable units?commonly referred to as ?community-housing? units?are scheduled to be built in the next year, but the aggregate of 44 units is still hundreds short of the assessed need, the report notes.

In presenting the report by city planner Stefanie Webster, Moniz asked the P&Z to determine if the community is building enough affordable housing. If not, he asked, should the city seek to implement new policies that require the construction of deed-restricted housing instead of simply providing developers with incentives to do so?

?If this is a priority for the City Council to change, this is where it?s going to start,? Moniz told the P&Z.

The report issued to the P&Z Monday presents a concise overview of exactly how daunting the community-housing problem is in Ketchum.

Although the city has?through various incentives in place?managed to encourage developers to build 44 deed-restricted units, a 2002 housing-needs study indicated that at least 665 community-housing units are needed in the Wood River Valley, the report says.

In addition, the report states that at least 62 families and single individuals employed in Ketchum have submitted applications for community housing in the city and are currently on a waiting list to be considered for any new units made available.

The report notes: ?As older housing units, which have traditionally been ?affordable? rental units, are redeveloped into high-end residential projects, and property values in Hailey, Bellevue and Carey rise, the challenge of creating community housing within Ketchum is more important than ever.?

The report also acknowledges that 14 new units are scheduled to be built in Sun Valley?as part of new project called Elkhorn Springs?and an additional 43 units could come as part of a soon-to-be-proposed development in Blaine County, located south of St. Luke?s Wood River Medical Center.

On Thursday, Moniz said his goal in getting city leaders to talk about the housing issue is primarily to determine if the city needs to take a more aggressive role in getting community-housing units built.

?My aspiration is to bring this issue out into the light,? Moniz said. ?Community housing appears to be a priority with the City Council ? To me though, if you look at the numbers, there is something that is missing.?

First and foremost, Moniz said, the city should determine what its needs are, what its goals are and what its mechanisms for meeting those goals should be.

?Community housing is a difficult thing to implement,? he said. ?I don?t think you can get a solution until you know what the issues are.?

The crux issue is perhaps whether the city will seek to implement a so-called ?linkage ordinance,? a piece of legislation that would mandate that community housing be built as a part of certain projects. Currently, the city primarily relies on zoning regulations that provide incentives?such as building floor-area bonuses?for developers to include community housing in their projects.

The city in some instances allows developers to receive bonuses for providing an ?in-lieu-of-housing? fee that is set aside in a fund designated for the construction of community housing in the city.

However, Moniz said, the challenge of creating housing in Ketchum should not necessarily rest solely with the city. He said he believes the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority?an agency funded by the city and the county to promote community housing and oversee the allocation of deed-restricted units?could join the city in becoming more aggressive in tackling the issue.

?In my opinion, the Housing Authority needs to be very creative in this matter,? Moniz said.

Michael David, executive director of the Housing Authority, said he is encouraged by figures that indicate the community-housing stock in Ketchum will likely double in the next year. At the same time, he said, he would welcome opportunities to discuss with city officials new ways of getting people off of his waiting list and into deed-restricted units.

David and Moniz both said this week that they believe a significant first step was achieved in recent months, when a decision was made to charge developers an in-lieu fee of $412 per square foot of community housing being deferred, rather than a flat fee of $70,000 per unit.

At the Monday meeting, P&Z commissioners suggested that it would be appropriate for the city to evaluate its community-housing incentives.

Moniz said he will seek to convene a joint meeting of the P&Z, City Council and Housing Authority to determine if the city should alter its policies.

?I think the council needs to weigh in,? he said.

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