Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Affordability gap for housing widens

Hardships could worsen for middle-class prospective homeowners

Express Staff Writer

A report from the Blaine County Housing Authority indicates that it might not get any easier for middle-class families to buy a home in the Wood River Valley.
Photo by Roland Lane

    To buy a single-family home in Ketchum or Sun Valley, a prospective homeowner would need to make well over $200,000 annually—that’s 270 percent of Blaine County’s area median income, or AMI.
    That’s according to Dave Patrie and Bobi Bellows of the Blaine County Housing Authority, who crunched numbers at the Ketchum County Council meeting Monday to show the findings of their annual report.
    The AMI of Blaine County households of four is just over $80,000 annually, while the statewide AMI for nuclear families is $54,900, according to the presentation.
    Though the affordability gap is less in the resort market for townhomes and condos, it’s still over $150,000 dollars.
    “It’s tough to afford anything in the north valley,” Patrie said.
    In Hailey and Bellevue, households who earn the AMI are still able to purchase single-family homes and condos, though the difference between the maximum affordable prices and the median price has significantly lessened in the past year—so any increase in the median price will cut out middle-class households from homeownership.
    Bellows said Ketchum is the preferred city for most BCHA applicants, though households of three or more prefer Hailey or Bellevue.
    Despite the natural assumption that Blaine County residents can afford a significantly higher home price, the presentation cites only a 5 percent difference between annual wages in the county as compared to those statewide. This discrepancy can be attributed to the difference between income and wages; the typical applicant for affordable housing locally is paid hourly without another source of money coming in.

The folks we’re trying to serve make an hourly wage.”
David Patrie
Housing Authority

    In terms of both renters and owners, “for workers in counties with high median income but relatively lower wages, the industry standard affordability analysis will overstate their ability to afford a home,” the presentation stated.
    “The folks we’re trying to serve make an hourly wage,” said Patrie, executive director of the Housing Authority.
    The Housing Authority has 13 more applicants in their system now than they did at this time last year, Bellows said. Of those 118 applicants, 42 percent earn less than $40,000 annually. The report states that this number could be the “new normal” in Blaine County due to the slow economic recovery post-recession. In 2009, about 25 percent of applicants earned less than 50 percent of the AMI.  
    “The middle class is declining,” Bellows said.
    Residents of all income levels are affected by this affordability stretch. The presentation cites forced relocations, increased travel times and fewer full-time residents supporting the economy as a byproduct of the housing gap.
    Fortunately, the unemployment rate locally continues to decline. Between March 2013 and March 2014, the number of unemployed residents went from 6.3 percent to 5.3 percent, with an increase of 129 jobs.
    Though the job market may be improving, the BCHA report also shows an increased rental price with fewer rentals on the market. They tracked rental prices across the county over the past 30 months and compared them to the past five months for a then-now analysis. In Ketchum and Sun Valley, the 30-month rental average for everything from studio apartments to three-bedroom dwellings is $1,112 a month and the same residences over the past five-month span average $1,187 a month, for an increase of 6.8 percent in rental prices. Comparatively, there were about 26 advertisements a month in the Idaho Mountain Express classifieds for rentals and a downturn of 16.5 percent in the past five months.
    In Hailey and Bellevue, the difference in rental prices between the past 30 months and the past five is only 3.2 percent, though the rental market as analyzed by the newspaper classifieds is down by over one-third.
    The summation of Blaine County’s rental prices and supply show a 5.3 percent increase in monthly rental prices over the past five months and a 24.8 percent decrease in rental advertisements in that same period.
     “A rental market with high costs and low inventory is not good for a resort economy, nor will it help Blaine County diversify its economy,” the report stated.
    With a slow upturn in Blaine County’s population—almost 1 percent between 2012 and 2013—Patrie and Bellows write in their report that an increase in affordable homes and rental housing options is necessary.
    The BCHA’s Community Homes have undergone a “strong recovery” according to the report. With 13 new homes purchased in the past 15 months, the BCHA only has two homes left for sale. The average price of Community Homes sold between 2012 and 2014 is just over $140,000.
Amy Busek:

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