For the week of August 19 thru August 25, 1998  

Jumpstart housing by buying existing units


Ketchum and the Blaine County Housing Authority are so focused on building new affordable housing from the ground up, they may be passing up opportunities to protect existing affordable units.

Neither Ketchum nor the county has even considered setting up a system to buy existing units, restrict the resale price, and then resell them. Instead, they insist that any affordable housing must be built from the ground up.

That’s silly. It’s the slowest, most expensive, most divisive way to build a supply of affordable units.

Construction of affordable housing complexes requires hundreds of thousands of dollars up front from the city, the county or a developer. It requires that money be tied up for long periods of time. It can include long drawn-out public hearings on location and design while the cash meter runs.

Buying existing units is easier and should be quicker. As the pendulum swings in the local real estate market, affordable units will pop up from time to time. Ketchum or the county could buy them—even one at a time--freeze the price in a deed-restriction, and resell them.

The deed-restriction on price will preserve affordability into the future. After all, isn’t the point to continue to have housing that is affordable for working people?

Had this been done 10 years ago, affordable units would exist today. It’s trite but useful to remember that today is the 10 years ago of tomorrow.

Buying existing units has other advantages. It would ensure that working people do not become corralled in affordable ghettoes. The units would be part of different developments in different neighborhoods. This would help stop the ghost-town syndrome from overwhelming neighborhoods as land values continue to rise and second homes become the dominant structures.

The idea is simple. The city or county would need to help first-time buyers work their way through the quagmire of lending and down-payment options. That would be easier than arguing with private developers about design, location or profit margins.

This is not to say that efforts to build affordable housing should be abandoned. However, a buying program could plug the gap until newer housing comes on line.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of existing housing, the city and county should start buying. Ketchum should use some of its land-acquisition money to jumpstart the program.

 

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