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Ketchum businesses feel impacts of lack of affordable housing in the city

Data from the Ketchum's housing assessment shows the city will need about 660 to 980 homes in the next ten years to keep up with the growth and need.

KETCHUM, Idaho — If you were to ask a Ketchum local what a staple of the city is, there is a good chance many would reply, "Perry's Restaurant."

"I think we're a part of the community, we've always been a little off the beaten path," said owner Keith Perry. "We're the kind of a local place- like a 'Cheers' kind of place where you see the same people every day."

Perry and his wife, Paula, opened the restaurant 37 years ago in 1985. Since then it's grown. Perry said on a good day the eatery serves nearly 1,000 customers with dine-in and to-go orders.

"We'll do almost $2 million in sales this year," Perry said.

After nearly four decades of serving the people and visitors of the Wood River Valley, Perry's will close their doors on May 31.

"We're at a stage in life, that it was just a good time for us to kind of pack it in," Perry said.

Last year Perry sold the building that houses the restaurant which sparked the idea for him and his wife to retire and sell the business to someone else. 

"As it turns out, after looking for nine months there just isn't like that person around," Perry said.

Perry said there are a few factors as to why he believes no one put an offer in to buy Perry's; money and the time commitment.

"You've got to want to work like we do, which lately is 70 or 80 hours a week, and you got to have a place to live," Perry said.

He said the increased workload on his end is due to an employee shortage, exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing in the city. There are a few cashier and barista positions open, something he said once was filled quickly.

"We used to get years ago, somebody that graduated from college, and they'd go, 'I'm going to go skiing for a year before I get a real job,' and there were just people around but right now it's literally impossible to live here," said Perry.

Data from the Ketchum's housing assessment shows the city will need about 660 to 980 homes in the next ten years to keep up with the growth and need. The assessment found its workforce primarily lives in low or middle-class households (under $45,355 a year or $23 an hour). The assessment said about 60% of "local renters live in unaffordable housing," which means they pay more than 30% of their gross income on housing.

"If you're a working person, if you if you don't show up with with a lot of money or trust fund, it's, it's becoming almost impossible to live here," said Paddy McIlvoy, the managing partner for Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum.

McIlvoy his business is seeing similar challenges. With more people living and visiting Sun Valley, the store is making good money, but it's been difficult to hire and keep operations at their standards.

"I've been trying to hire a new full-time head bike mechanic for two years now," McIlvoy said. "I've had a number of phenomenal candidates who are wonderful people who desperately wanted to move here, wanted this job and literally at any real-world price could not find somewhere to live."

He said while this problem is nothing new, it's only gotten worse.

According to data from the City of Ketchum, over the last 10 years, the population in Ketchum has steadily increased and saw huge growth in 2020 because of the pandemic. Short-term rentals (STR) increased by 49%.

While STRs are seeing substantial increases, long-term rentals (LTR) are not. LTRs made up 31% of the city's residential units in 1970. In 2019, LTRs only made up 10 percent of residential units.

"Part of the reason I'm very lucky is that my largely, long-time workforce are all people who bought houses here when it was more affordable," McIlovoy said. "As those people retire without a real change businesses like mine are gonna be in real trouble."

With housing more expensive and harder to find, it is having current residents of Ketchum have to decide whether this is a place they can see themselves continuing to live in the future.

"If I wanted to continue to live here to raise a family here, that option is being taken away from this crisis that Ketchum is undergoing," said Esther Williams. 

Williams grew up in Ketchum, went away for a few years, and came back because she said, "this is home."

"What I've seen happen in the last two years is a lot of businesses long term that has been kind of the backbone of this community start to either close-up shop and shorten hours," Williams said.

She added she knows of a lot of the retail and restaurant staff that are having a tough time finding places to live that are affordable. But it is not only the service industry, teachers, nurses and other professions in Ketchum are having trouble living in the city.

"With the income that I make off of owning two businesses here in Ketchum, I'm still under a bracket where I cannot afford to purchase that what the local rate is," Williams said.

While Perry said there are current struggles the city faces when it comes to housing he is staying hopeful - especially with items like the construction of Bluebird Village, a proposed low-income housing project, and a ballot measure the City is putting forth that would increase local-option taxes (LOT) for the May 17 election. 

If passed, LOT percentages would increase .75% on retail sales, 2% on lodging, 2% on by-the-drink liquor, and 1% on building materials.

According to the city, the money would go towards Ketchum's Housing Plan to fund and build more affordable units around town. The plan hopes to secure a minimum of 650 units of local workforce housing in the next ten years, ensure at least 60 percent of the city's housing are owners or long-term occupied and 40 percent of the workforce can actually live in Ketchum.

"I just think having a significant amount of workforce housing in Ketchum contributes to the vibrancy of the community," Perry said.

Perry said the new owners of his building plan to build a new mixed-use building with affordable housing involved. He added in his retirement he plans to become more involved with the Blaine County Housing Authorities.

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