Friday, July 15, 2005

More at stake than merely houses for workers

Is a genuine crisis that touches the whole community needed to dramatize why housing that's affordable for service personnel is so urgently needed?

Are the ongoing, consistently anguished pleas not getting through to public officials—as well as to business leaders—for action and action now?

Time and again, public agencies—especially police and fire departments—have complained that recruiting personnel is becoming more difficult, sometimes impossible, because housing costs are soaring faster than salaries.

The issue has been revived anew before the Ketchum City Council by Police Chief Cory Lyman, who is doubling as a patrol officer because of personnel vacancies he ascribes to a lack of affordable housing.

Rather than waiting for a shortage of public service personnel to create a noticeable shortfall in community services and perhaps even jeopardize community security, elected officials should act now to get more affordable housing underway.

There are more factors involved than merely providing roofs over the heads of essential community workers.

What cost consequences will there be on homeowner and business insurance premiums, for example, if the Wood River Valley area were judged to be inadequate in its police and fire protection because of a lack of personnel?

But move beyond firefighters and police. What will be the corresponding effect on children if competent teachers and administrators for schools can't afford housing here and therefore decline job offers and leave schools struggling for staff? And what of medical personnel—nurses, technicians, office personnel—to care for a growing population?

Taxpayers expect the nitty-gritty functions of government, too, to be staffed by professionals in providing services—water, road repair and traffic, handling public funds, dealing with legal issues, planning and zoning and more.

Government services are not all that a community expects. Businesses on which residents depend for goods and services have a stake in ensuring adequate housing to attract and keep employees.

In one way, the area's largest employer, the Sun Valley Co., recognizes the critical nature of affordable housing. It provides dormitory housing for 550 workers who otherwise would be unable to find accommodations. In short, virtually everyone is affected by the availability of adequate affordable housing.

The widespread impact of housing on the community can be found in 17th century poet George Herbert's metaphorical elegy: "For want of a nail the shoe is lost; for want of a shoe the horse is lost; for want of a horse the rider is lost."

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