Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Deed-restricted housing is best option for many

Commentary by Michael Carpenter


For the Express

I am writing in response to Pawan Mehra's recent guest opinion (Affordable housing—Killing the American dream).

While Pawan made a generous decision to assist his brother in purchasing a home in Fairfield and commuting to his job in Ketchum, others—including more than 400 on a waiting list for fewer than 50 deed-restricted homes available in the valley—do not have such assistance available to them. To suggest that everyone else should "run, run, run away" from deed-restricted housing based on the logic presented is erroneous, irresponsible and just unfair.

Most of the workforce in the Wood River Valley (including teachers, emergency workers, nurses, service workers and professionals) have only three choices for providing shelter to them and their families:

· The burden of paying a lifetime of ever-increasing rents.

· Leaving our community, either by accepting the reality of one- to two-hour-long commutes to their jobs, or permanently moving to find an area where incomes and homes more closely relate.

· Deed-restricted home ownership.

Clearly, the argument against a lifetime of renting is well understood. With rising home prices in the valley, redevelopment will likely put increasing pressures on the existing moderate rents within the valley.

With deed-restricted housing, new homeowners often put down small down-payments; have very little risk of their home decreasing in value; and likely enjoy mortgage payments that are less than the rents they would otherwise be paying. Deed-restricted homes are an asset they otherwise would be unable to own in this community and provide an option for a lifetime of stable housing payments if they chose.

While deed-restricted homes do contain a provision that prevents them from appreciating more than CPI to a maximum of 4 percent per year, they are sold below market value and become a community asset in perpetuity. When comparing this cap on appreciation to the overall housing market, keep in mind the escalation in home prices seen over the last decade is unprecedented and unlikely to continue indefinitely. From 1980 to 2006, the average annual home price increase nationwide was only 5.46 percent (5.11 percent in mountain states).

The second option of leaving our community is being forced on more and more of the valleys' residents. We currently have nearly 2,800 people who commute to jobs in the valley but live outside the valley. Over 74 percent of these people would move to the valley if there were affordable homes to live in. They earn incomes from the valley, but spend these incomes in their home counties, taking economic value with them. When you consider the effects on the environment, road congestion and fossil fuel consumption, I hope not all of the remaining 10,000 workers needed in the valley choose this option.

Unfortunately, many are also choosing the option of leaving our community permanently. Over the last 10 years, demographic changes in Ketchum and Sun Valley show that the age groups of 20-40 are declining in absolute numbers, while the age group of 70 and above has increased 600 percent.

This results in an overall workforce shortage (currently estimated at 850 unfilled jobs) and teacher vacancies at an all time high, with 12 teacher positions currently unfilled going into September's first day of school.

Economic development depends a great deal on the availability of a strong, educated, centralized workforce. Thankfully, most of the citizens in our community understand this, and as shown in the recently completed Housing Needs Assessment. It said 78 percent, or 7,059 households, feel that the issue of people who work in the county being able to find housing they can afford is the one of the most, or the most, critical problems facing our community.

Now, if I can just get my friend Pawan to understand that deed-restricted homes are not "DOLE" or somehow "threatening the constitution" as he says, but instead a viable option for the few people in the valley who are afforded this choice.

Michael Carpenter is the board president of Ketchum-based Advocates for Real Community Housing, an organization that seeks to promote affordable housing in the Wood River Valley.

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