Friday, May 2, 2008

Hotels, affordable housing are vital to economic stability

A community's economic stability is very much like a finely tuned and well-oiled engine. When all pistons are firing properly, the engine runs smooth. When several pistons are not functioning, the motor can come to a sudden shutdown.

Using that metaphor, two of the essential pistons in the Wood River Valley's economy are missing or not functioning.

First, adequate affordable housing is in critically short supply. Second, adequate lodging accommodations to attract and handle more visitors are woefully lacking.

Blaine County's momentum in building a stock of affordable housing was severely set back when the county commission reluctantly decided to repeal an ordinance requiring developers to set aside 20 percent of their projects as affordable housing. This was in response to a court decision that ruled the city of McCall's similar ordinance unconstitutional.

Now the county must reaffirm its commitment to housing for service and support workers in the valley by crafting a new ordinance that will pass judicial muster and challenge.

Throughout Western states in high-growth communities, costlier housing is forcing workers to move farther from their places of work to find affordable homes.

In Santa Fe, N.M., for example, an economic analysis found that some 9,000 workers had moved away and become commuters to their Santa Fe jobs. The study's most astonishing finding was that these workers now spend about 63 percent of their incomes where they live, rather than where they work, for an estimated loss of some $301 million annually to Santa Fe merchants.

Obviously, it's good business to have ample affordable housing where people work, and it clearly behooves businesses and government in the valley to stem the migration of workers to other counties because of high housing costs.

The same is true of the good business that will accrue if Ketchum can wrest itself from moribund thinking and pave the way for development of the hotels now proposed for the community.

The Ketchum area, the valley's principal resort area, has lost well over 300 hotel rooms in recent years. Until that many and more are restored, the area's tourism marketing abilities will be limited. The projected new rooms are not for seasonal use; Ketchum is now a full-fledged year-round recreation and convention center.

More affordable housing and more hotel lodging would complement strides elsewhere in the community—a spectacular new performing arts and music pavilion in Sun Valley, a stunning new Center for the Arts, and an array of new winter and summer festivals and events that draw thousands of visitors to the area.

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