Friday, September 18, 2009

Challenges loom on housing front

State, county officials discuss ways to ‘bridge the gap’


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

There is no easy solution for creating affordable housing in Blaine County.

That was evident after Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and other state officials held a workshop Wednesday with Blaine County commissioners, Sun Valley city officials and representatives from local community housing organizations.

Jaquet and fellow state representatives Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Phylis King, D-Boise, along with Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich and Councilman Nils Ribi, discussed possible legislative methods to encourage or require development of affordable community housing.

Jaquet said the introduction of any inclusionary housing legislation—that mandating developers to build affordable units—at the state level would likely face opposition from powerful real estate and construction lobbies throughout Idaho.

"The more we can do locally, the better," she said.

Rebekah Helzel, president of the ARCH Community Housing Trust board, said incentive-based ordinances, such as those in effect in Ketchum and Hailey, appear to be the best method for creating affordable housing.

By allowing developers more density in exchange for deed-restricted housing, the cities could avoid the legal trouble that befell McCall in 2008 when a district court judge deemed the city's inclusionary housing ordinance to be an illegal tax.

"Inclusionary zoning is the solution for us right now unless someone hands us $50 million to bridge the gap," Helzel said.

However, Willich said an incentive-based ordinance likely wouldn't produce significant results in Sun Valley, where high density has not been a priority for developers.

County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said community housing could be increased through annexation requests, in which developers would agree to provide the housing in exchange for the benefits of city services.

Schoen also said the county and cities could include property-tax exemptions for developers that include affordable housing in their projects.

"We would give up something here to get something over there," Schoen said.

Helzel also added the possibility of "green taping" a project—fast-tracking consideration of developments with a community housing component ahead of others.

Blaine County Housing Authority Treasurer Linda Thorson said that regardless of the path taken, housing goals will be most quickly reached if the county and cities in the Wood River Valley find a "common ground" with their housing ordinances.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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