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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of February 13 - 19, 2002


Affordable housing helps diverse group

Availability for many is about choices

Express Staff Writer

The daughter of a movie star, a 75-year-old ski instructor and an X-ray technologist might not seem to have anything in common. But they do.

Tisha Sterling, daughter of actress Ann Southern, is one of a diverse group of people buying affordable housing in the Wood River Valley. Express photo by David N. Seelig

They all know what it is like to struggle for a place to live in the Wood River Valley.

They are three from the growing ranks of hundreds who either moved here recently to work and buy a home, but can't quite afford it, or have worked here for decades, yet have been squeezed out of owning a home as housing prices skyrocket.

But local governments want to keep them here, not only because they are a key component of the valleyís work force but they help make the community socially diverse. Without people like them, some worry that the landscape of the countyís expensive resort towns and exclusive properties is in danger of becoming monotonously peopled with the retired rich or homogeneous with empty vacation homes.

"Is anyone Ďrealí going to live here?" said Tisha Sterling, who recently bought one of three affordable condominiums just completed at River Glen south of Ketchum. "No, because of the prices."

Beyond the fact that they need help with housing, these hundreds are impossible to categorize. And thatís one reason local government is offering them help.

Last month, Sterling bought her one-bedroom condominium for $105,000, the legally restricted price, which is tens of thousands of dollars less than its free-market value.

The condo is a few hundred yards from the Big Wood River. Inside, it looks like a small museum dedicated to Ann Southern, with furniture the actress owned and paintings of the actress with her daughter.

Thatís because Sterling, 50, is Ann Southernís daughter.

For Sterling, affordable housing in Ketchum is about choices. Working people and the community as a whole are better off when all people have an opportunity to live in the city where they work, she said.

Sterling is a florist, something she began doing for a living after she moved here from Malibu, Calif., in 1986 to be with her mother, and to escape and recover from what she described as her "hard and fast lifestyle."

Sterling bought a three-bedroom house in Ketchum in the late 1980s for $185,000, then sold it a year later. Her mother rented a house in Ketchum for 17 years, so she was not able to pass along a home to her daughter when she died last year.

And there was the matter of money.

"My mother made millions and lost millions, and when she died, there was nothing left," said Sterling.

Before moving in to her new home, Sterling had rented an apartment in Ketchum, which she shared with roommates.

With only a single one-bedroom affordable condo available last year in Ketchum, Sterling went through what she called a "mind bending" lottery to determine who among a list would get the unit.

"I really wanted it, I prayed for it," she said.

One of the people who didnít win the River Glen lottery was Al Peace, 75, a ski instructor who has lived in the Ketchum area for 41 years.

During that time, he has twice built and sold homes in or near Ketchum. But, due to bad luck and bad timing, he now lives in a small trailer north of Ketchum.

"Iím trying to make a home out of this place," he said. "Iíve lived in Ketchum for 41 years, and Iíve never had to live in a trailer."

Peace said the old-timers like himself who donít own a place to live are getting pushed out of Ketchum by high prices. Half of his longtime friends have moved to Twin Falls, Hagerman and elsewhere. He, too, considers moving away, but wants to continue living in the area he considers home.

His first house, in 1961, cost $15,000. Located two blocks southwest of Main Street and Sun Valley Road, it is now an art gallery, he said.

Peace sold that house in the late 1960s and built another house on Warm Springs Road near the base of the ski hill for $28,000. And thatís where he lived until last fall when a deal he had entered into with a friend to build a duplex on the site when sour, and he lost his home.

Peace was one of eight applicants who qualified for the single, one-bedroom unit that only one person, Sterling, was able to buy.

Next door, an X-ray technologist bought an affordable two-bedroom unit.

Across town, in affordable condos at The Fields, live a bookkeeper, a land surveyor, a massage therapist and the owner of a beauty supply store, among others.

Gates Kellett, the director of the Blaine County Housing Authority and the Ketchum Housing Commission, which oversees the construction of affordable housing, keeps a list of people seeking all kinds of affordable housing to rent or buy. Currently, there are 109 people waiting.

Overall, 26 percent of county residents pay more than they can afford for housing, according to a 1997 study commissioned by the city of Ketchum. The study defines affordable housing as that which costs no more than 30 percent of residentsí incomes.

Having rich people and poor people live in the same communities is a "very healthy thing, because different stratas of society get to mix with each other and get to know one another," said Paul Wilcox, who owns a market-rate condo next door to the affordable condos at The Fields. "Rich people donít live in their gated communities and develop this idea that youíre dirt."

Wilcox said he moved here from Aspen, where he grew up, because that city had lost its sense of community. He doesnít want the same thing to happen in Ketchum, even if preventing it means building a dense city.

Traffic problems more people might cause can be prevented with public transportation, he said. Open space can be maintained with parks. And denser cities mean less sprawl.

"You put everybody together," he said. "Thereís benefits."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.