An answer is needed for housing

If there’s one thing I can agree with the Saratoga Town Council on when it comes to the issue of income-based housing, it’s there is no quick or easy answer.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone expects there to be a quick or easy answer. It’s probably why it was listed as a concern in the 2016 Saratoga Master Plan which, as Pastor Steve Niccolls put it during the October 5 council meeting, is collecting dust at town hall. A number of goals were presented in the document to address the forecasted housing need and the need for affordable housing.

In fact, one goal is specifically called “incentive options for development of affordable housing”. Under that goal, the Town of Saratoga is encouraged by their 2016 Master Plan to encourage manufactured housing over site-built housing, evaluate zoning and subdivision ordinances, and to evaluate and mitigate regulatory barriers for low-income apartment housing developments.

It’s not like this issue was sneaking up on anybody; either the need for rental properties or homeowner properties. The same master plan forecasted the need for both would grow between 4.2 percent and 14.6 percent from 2015 to 2040. While two developments are currently in progress to the north and south of Shively Airfield, little progress has been made in terms of apartments. This was an issue raised by Niccolls when he told the council not everybody would be wanting a three-bedroom, two bathroom house.

When Niccolls proposed the governing body make approval of new developments dependent upon a certain percentage of houses being entry-level prices, it didn’t seem to go over well. Mayor Creed James responded by saying he believed it wasn’t the role of government to “squelch the market” by telling developers what the Town of Saratoga needed.

I respectfully disagree. 

Recently, the city of Ketchum, Idaho—population 2,791—approved an affordable housing project which would bring 51 new apartments to the area. The project was certainly not a quick fix, as it was in the works for three years according to a report from Boise State Public Radio. Deed restrictions on the apartments, which are being developed by GMD Development of Seattle, Washington, will prevent the rent from increasing beyond affordability of the working population.

The project, Bluebird Village Rentals, has its supporters and its detractors. According to the report from Boise State Public Radio, more than 40 local businesses signed in support of the project. Those opposed to the project have stated the location for Bluebird Village Rentals is taking up valuable downtown real estate, among other concerns.

Earlier this year, the governing body of Ketchum considered a plan to allow teachers, nurses and service workers to set up tents in the city park due to the lack of affordable housing.

In Jackson, Wyoming service workers faced similar issues. According to an article which originally ran in the Jackson Hole News & Guide and was picked up by the Associated Press, service workers camped out in the national forest surrounding Jackson due to the lack of affordable housing.

Do I think Saratoga is dangerously close to having tent cities? Well, that depends on who you ask. Saratoga Sun staff recently had someone looking for places to rent because, while they obtained a job here, there was no place for them to live other than in their recreational vehicle. It is possible they’re not the only one.

I don’t think Saratoga, or the Valley, will ever get to be the size of Jackson. Rawlins is barely the size of Jackson. We will continue to grow, though. If I’m being perfectly honest, I think it’s not only unfair, but unethical to bring employees to work in a community when they don’t have a place to live. Living in tents in the national forest or camping out in a recreational vehicle at Saratoga Lake Campground is just not sustainable.

I understand there isn’t a quick or easy answer to this issue. There can be an answer, though. The Saratoga Town Council could easily form a committee of concerned residents to look into this issue and find a solution.

For the future of Saratoga and those living here, I ask they do just that.


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