Friday, May 20, 2005

Real 'affordable housing' remains unprotected


For all the progress, however slow and small, various Wood River Valley governments have made toward an affordable housing program, the last of the original "affordable housing" is in peril of slipping away.

These are the area's two mobile home parks, North Fork and The Meadows.

What they lack is mobile-home zoning—a protection from ambitious and speculative developers with visions of large, costly vacation homes on the parks after evicting occupants.

This is a reality. It happened last year when the residents of J&C Mobile Home Park south of Ketchum were evicted and told to look elsewhere.

Through no fault of their own, more and more workers in the valley have only mobile homes for permanent housing if they want to remain near workplaces. The cost of homes is skyrocketing beyond the means of most wage earners.

In addition, the future holds even more bleak prospects. In years to come, more valley workers will be forded farther south to the area around Shoshone for housing—and even beyond.

That creates a whole new set of issues—a commuter work force that could require public or employer-provided transportation and a work force spending two hours or more each work day getting to and from employment.

This is not urban Los Angeles and it seems almost surreal that a growing number of workers in a county of only some 20,000 population would be required to spend so much time in tiring commutes.

Formally creating a zoning category for mobile homes would allow many workers on whom the community depends to remain closer to work as well as be involved in the community that provides their livelihood.

What this issue now needs is a rallying cry from people who most directly benefit from mobile-home housing—residents of mobile homes themselves and their employers, whether businesses or homeowners that require household employment.

Their voices would go a long way to convince zoning officials to codify mobile homes as something other than casual or temporary housing and not fit for protection from real estate speculators.

There's a practical side of this for employers to recognize: the more difficult it is to find workers because of the difficulty of finding adequate housing, the higher the cost of keeping employees.

Protecting the mobile homes is but one step in solving the much larger problem of affordable housing. However, it's a vital step that has been ignored by a succession of Blaine County commissioners and can only mean the very worst if action is postponed.




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