Wednesday, October 3, 2007

County land eyed for affordable housing

Blaine employees could be given housing preference under such a plan

Express Staff Writer

Rebekah Helzel

The executive director of the Ketchum-based nonprofit ARCH Community Housing Trust believes the best use of two separate parcels of land owned by Blaine County could be for the construction of affordable housing.

Speaking before the Blaine County Commission on Tuesday, ARCH founding director Rebekah Helzel said two separate county-owned parcels along Fourth Avenue in Hailey and adjacent to the Agave Place affordable housing project on the north end of Buttercup Road could have as many as six affordable homes built on them collectively.

Helzel said that under such a plan, the county could establish the standards dictating how affordable housing on the publicly owned land would be managed. Among those standards could be a preference system giving county employees first right of refusal on community housing units built there, she said.

"If not, we could go through the normal selection process," Helzel said.

She said the county could even partner with a nonprofit organization like Habitat for Humanity to get affordable housing built. Habitat for Humanity is an international organization that builds homes for low-income families and individuals.

Helzel cited an ongoing partnership where ARCH recently purchased a single-family lot in Bellevue that will have a new home built on it by Habitat for Humanity.

"It's a great partnership," she said. "We're really excited."

Helzel said the county could enter into similar partnerships to provide affordable housing.

In general, the commissioners seemed interested in pursuing the idea.

"I would like to proceed on this," Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said. "Affordable housing is my top priority, bar none."

ARCH is a community housing trust that works with local public and private entities to permanently preserve land for use as building sites for affordable housing for families and individuals in Blaine County. Those people who qualify can enter into long-term, 99-year leases with ARCH in which they lease the land their homes occupy.

In this way, potential homebuyers don't have to purchase land on a speculative open market.

"We take land out of the equation," Helzel said.

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