Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Playing Solomon on housing

Should any taxing district—city, school, fire, ambulance, cemetery, etc.—be able to build workforce housing exclusively for public employees to the exclusion of all others?

That's the question before the Blaine County Commissioners, who must play Solomon in a dispute involving the Blaine County School District, a developer, and the Blaine Ketchum Housing Authority.

The developer wants to build workforce housing required as part of a new subdivision not in the subdivision itself, but on land owned by the school district.

Because the school district would continue to own the home sites near Woodside Elementary School, it wants all 22 units proposed to be reserved for district staff.

That would violate a requirement that only 30 percent of new workforce units may be reserved for purchase by employees of a single employer.

The district is desperate to house everyone from teachers to bus drivers to custodians. Setting aside the rule is tempting because it would benefit education.

The district says partnering with the developer will result in cheaper costs and more housing than the developer would be required to build. It also would remove 22 people from the BKHA's list of people desiring to buy workforce housing.

Yet, the future of local workforce housing may rest on the commissioners' decision.

As they play Solomon, their goals should be to get the greatest number of housing units, balance the needs of public and private entities, and to hasten delivery of new workforce units to market.

They should not settle for less.

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