This Posh Resort Area Has a Major Housing Crisis

Houses sit empty in Idaho's Sun Valley as teachers and firefighters live in RVs and garages
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2022 1:40 PM CDT
Sun Valley Has a Serious Housing Crisis, No Solutions
Sun Valley, Idaho   (Getty/christiannafzger)

Nestled 6,000 feet in the Idaho Rockies, Sun Valley is a longtime playground for the exceptionally wealthy. For example, an assortment of moguls and titans (think Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg) gathered there last month for the annual “summer camp for billionaires,” per Variety. The nearby town of Ketchum—a longtime playground for service workers, teachers, firefighters, and small-business owners—was recently ranked No. 2 on a list of “best small towns in Idaho” based on its quality schools, low crime, and gorgeous surroundings. The median home price there is also $1.2 million, and a two-bedroom apartment rents for $3,000 a month, but good luck finding one.

As Mike Baker reports for the New York Times, it’s not that there aren’t any houses. The problem is wealthy professionals who—unencumbered by office life during the pandemic— decided to migrate to or at least grab second homes in lovely, faraway places. While affordable housing is always a challenge in resort towns, things were never this dire in Sun Valley. Baker met families living in cars, tents, and sweltering garages. Up to half of the region’s Latino workers “are living in difficult situations,” says one community organizer, who tells of 10 people packed into mobile homes. Meanwhile, many houses sit empty most of the year, and buyers line up for any dilapidated thing that hits the market.

The problem extends well beyond the service industry, with one couple—a principal and a teacher—resorting to life in a camper. Local businesses, schools, and fire departments can’t lure workers, and lines are growing at food banks. Officials have applied “Band-Aid solutions,” like waiving rules about parking RVs on private property, and residents are getting more resourceful, like the window washer who outfitted his box truck with solar power and camps with it in the woods at night. Earlier this year, voters in Ketchum declined a tax increase to fund affordable housing. That inspired one resident to draw a comparison to the Wizard of Oz: “People say one thing, and then behind a closed curtain they’re doing another.” (Read the full Times story.)

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