Friday Dec 02, 2022

A Town’s Housing Crisis Exposes a ‘House of Cards’ – The New York Times


HAILEY, Idaho — Near the private jets that shuttle billionaires to their opulent Sun Valley getaways, Ana Ramon Bartolome and her family have spent this summer living in the only place available to them: behind a blue tarp in a sweltering two-car garage.

With no refrigerator, the extended family of four adults and two young children keeps produce on plywood shelves. With no sink, they wash dishes and themselves at the nearby park. With no bedrooms, the six of them sleep on three single mattresses on the floor.

“I’m very anxious, depressed and scared,” said Ms. Bartolome, who makes her living tending to the homes of wealthy residents but cannot afford even the cheapest housing in the famous ski-and-golf playground.

Resort towns have long grappled with how to house their workers, but in places like Sun Valley those challenges have become a crisis as the chasm widens between those who have two homes and those who have two jobs. Fueled in part by a pandemic migration that has gobbled up the region’s limited housing supply, rents have soared over the last two years, leaving priced-out workers living in trucks, trailers or tents.

It is not just service workers struggling to hold on. A program director at the Y.M.C.A. is living in a camper on a slice of land in Hailey. A high school principal in Carey was living in a camper but then upgraded to a tiny apartment in an industrial building. A City Council member in Ketchum is bouncing between the homes of friends and family, unable to afford a place of his own. A small-business owner in Sun Valley spends each night driving dirt roads into the wilderness, parking his box truck under the trees and settling down for the night.

The housing shortfall is now threatening to paralyze what had been a thriving economy and cherished sense of community. The hospital, school district and sheriff’s office have each seen prospective employees bail on job offers after realizing the cost of living was untenable. The Fire Department that covers Sun Valley has started a $2.75 million fund-raising campaign to build housing for their firefighters.

Already, restaurants unable to hire enough service workers are closing or shortening hours. And the problems are starting to spread to other businesses, said Michael David, a Ketchum council member who has been working on housing issues for the past two decades.

“It’s kind of a house of cards,” he said. “It is close to toppling.”

Built as a destination ski resort to mirror the iconic winter appeal of the Alps, the Sun Valley area has grown into an exclusive enclave for the wealthy and famous, drawing Hollywood celebrities, political elites from Washington and business titans from Wall Street, many of whom gather each year for Allen & Company’s annual media finance conference, known as the “summer camp for billionaires.” They have scooped up desirable vacation properties nestled next to winter ski lodges and summer golf courses, away from the gawking crowds of their home cities.

With the onset of the pandemic, the region saw an influx of wealthy buyers looking for a work-from-home destination with plentiful amenities, and …….


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