Occupy Ketchum: peaceful protest over lack of affordable workforce housing

At the event, many people gave testimonials about their struggles with finding affordable housing
Published: May. 23, 2021 at 10:18 PM MDT|Updated: May. 23, 2021 at 10:19 PM MDT
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KETCHUM, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —People from all over Blaine County attended the Occupy Ketchum Town Square event on Saturday. The topic at hand was a lack of affordable workforce housing, as the cost of housing in Blaine County continues to rise, whilst median income simultaneously declines.

“I can personally think of five people who will be homeless by the end of this month at least or not already living in their cars for the summer because they can’t find a place,” said Ketchum resident Karl Wilander.

He also said if someone looks in the classifieds they will see four listings in all of Blaine County for apartments for rent, and everything is at least $1,500 for a one-bedroom, but there will be 70 to 80 listings for help wanted.

Some attendees at the Occupy Ketchum event told KMVT the housing crisis is so bad in Blaine County that someone could probably rent out a tent for $1,200.

“I moved back from college about seven years ago. I found a 500 square foot studio apartment it cost me $412,” said Blaine County resident John Anderson. “I saw that same apartment in the paper for $1,700 up here in Ketchum.”

Anderson joked about the income disparity in the area by stating that in Ketchum people either have two or three homes or they have two and three jobs to pay a single rent. He added that people with money buy homes in the scenic areas as investment properties or rent them out through Airbnb.

“I live in a 500 square foot loft. It was sold for $420,000,” Reid Stillman said. “A 500 square foot loft! I am going to be homeless [on] September 1st. I have no idea where I am going to live.”

At the event, Stillman and others showed concern for how the housing crisis is already starting to impact small businesses.

“Businesses are already closing their doors. Businesses that shouldn’t be. We have people that can’t get employees,” Stillman said.

One person said the solution isn’t small businesses raising wages, because all that does is raise the cost of goods. The solution is creating more housing at affordable rates for local workers.

Stillman — who hosted the event with Krysztof Gilarowski — wants people to start putting pressure on local leaders in part by signing a petition in support of the Bluebird Village: a 56 unit affordable housing project that some homeowners are against.

Stillman said his group already knows of 129 people who are against the Bluebird Village project over things like colors (of the decor), how it will impact parking in the area, and what type of people might end up living there.

“From what I have heard city council and planning and zoning want this to happen, but there are people who are vehemently opposed to it,” said Stillman. “They think it is going to be a slum, and these people have a lot of money, these people have lawyers, and we have already heard in the background discussions being had of lawyers being prepared to fight this.”

“Everybody knows ‘NIMBY” not in my backyard. What’s a ‘NIMFY’? Not in my front yard,” said one person who attended the event.

The organizers gathered more than 100 signatures from people at the event who support affordable housing and the Bluebird Village project, and they also want people to go to to show support for the project.

Stillman and others also want locals to start going to city council and planning and zoning meetings, so local leaders can hear their voices and concerns. Gilarowski stressed the importance of this because that is what the opposition is doing.

Wildander said it’s hard for people like him to attend meetings because he has to work. For others, it’s even harder because they have to work multiple jobs to pay their rent. He also said he thinks it is easier for the people who are against Bluebird Village to attend the meetings because most of them are retired.

At the event, many people gave testimonials about their struggles with finding affordable housing. One person said he knows of people who are living in their cars and bathing at the YMCA before work.

Stillman said something needs to be done quickly because this issue is already becoming a crisis.

“What I can tell you is that we are going to lose a lot of local flavors,” said Stillman. “We are going to lose a lot of local business owners, and a lot of these places we have been used to going to for years are going to be gone.”

He also said everyone needs to come together on a solution, and one might be starting a fund that local businesses can contribute to. The fund can be used to create affordable housing and allow the city to purchase the property.

At the event, Stillman announced he is running for mayor of Ketchum. Neil Bradshaw is currently the mayor.

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