Idaho gubernatorial candidate speaks about the housing crisis and worker shortages

Idaho gubernatorial candidate speaks about the housing crisis and worker shortages
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 1:05 PM MST
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SANDPOINT, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Worker shortages, escalating home prices and a lack of workforce housing are problems affecting many cities in Idaho, especially resort cities. However, one candidate who is running for the Governor of Idaho thinks he is the right person to fix the issue.

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad is a fourth-generation Idahoan and a local businessman in the community. His passion for public service started in 2007 when he was appointed to the Sandpoint Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and in 2012 he started serving on the Sandpoint City Council. In 2015 he was elected Mayor, and in 2019 he was re-elected. Rognstad is one of two people to serve two terms as Mayor in Sandpoint’s history

Now, he is prepared to take another leap. It’s a much larger one with a lot of responsibility attached to it. Rognstad recently announced he is running for Governor of Idaho as a Democrat. The Gem State has not had a Democratic governor in nearly 30 years. With so much division and extremism in the county, on both the left and the right, he thinks he stands a better than average chance in the 2022 Gubernatorial race in Idaho.

“What Idaho badly needs right now is a moderate voice, a proven leader who has demonstrated his or her ability to work across the aisle to provide pragmatic leadership to get things done,” Rognstad said.

One area where Rognstad feels he has demonstrated proven leadership that will help him attract voters, from the left and the right, is with Sandpoint’s success in instituting a short-term rental ordinance in 2017. According to the ordinance, only 35 non-owner-occupied short-term rentals are allowed in residential zones.

“Approval of the short-term rental ordinance has gone a long way of really keeping the rental market stable here, relatively affordable, and keeping those rentals available for the local workforce,” Rognstad said.

He adds the City of Sandpoint anticipated there was going to be a problem on the horizon with housing inventory and prices in 2017. He said creating a short-term rental ordinance was “definitely” the right move for them.

“Our timing was great because we were just ahead of the curve with it. Airbnb and these other short-term rental platforms were becoming popularized at that time,” said Rognstad. “We’re just really starting to see an explosion in that kind of market.”

Some resort cities have been reluctant to put policies in place to limit or regulate short-term rentals because of Idaho code 67-6539 which states, “county nor a city may enact or enforce any ordinance that has the express or practical effect of prohibiting short-term rentals or vacation rentals in the county or city”, or “regulate the operation of a short-term rental marketplace”.

The Sandpoint Mayor points out their ordinance does not prohibit or even limit short-term rentals in Sandpoint. It encourages it to happen in commercial areas where it is needed and makes sense.

“It helps the local economy because you have more commercial activity when you have more beds in commercial areas,” said Rognstad. “You have more shoppers, more people going to restaurants right there in that zone within walking distance of where they are living.”

The code also reads, “A county or city may implement such reasonable regulations as it deems necessary to safeguard the public health, safety, and general welfare to protect the integrity of residential neighborhoods in which short-term rentals or vacation rentals operate”. Rognsatd said the city has a “mandate” to protect the public health and safety in the community. Under that direction, the city put the cap at 35 for short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

“It gets louder, potentially more trash outside, more parked vehicles on the streets,” said Rognstad. “If they are sparse and few and far between then the neighborhood can absorb that impact and it’s not harmful. When a neighborhood becomes overwhelmed with short-term rentals it starts to affect the quality of life, public health, and safety of that neighborhood.”

For several months, KMVT has reported on the worker shortages and lack of affordable housing in the Wood River Valley. Some people in Blaine county have even shown an appetite for Idaho Code to be reexamined by the legislature.

“What we are looking to do is potentially partner with some of the other resort cities in Idaho to lobby the state legislature to allow us the autonomy to regulate and control our short-term rentals. Right now that is pretty much done at the state level,” said Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw.

Ketchum resident Krzysztof Gilarowski has been active in bringing attention to city leaders and residents about the lack of workforce housing in the Wood River Valley. He said he doesn’t want the state legislature passing laws that limit what cities and counties can do at the local level.

“I think that is an infringement of our freedom, and I think the state legislature should give the freedom back to local municipalities,” Gilarowski said.

Rognstad said he would not be in favor of amending the state code, because renting one’s personal property is a private property right, and he encourages local communities to look at the Sandpoint model for guidance.

“I think they will find there is a lot they can do at the local level to protect their inventory, to protect the housing prices from escalating, and to support workforce housing just through local initiatives like Sandpoint’s short-term rental ordinance,” Rognstad said.

He also points out as ARPA funding is coming through right now there could be a huge opportunity for Idaho to capture some of that infrastructure funding and apply that toward supporting workforce housing in communities across Idaho.

If elected, Rognstad said he wants to be part of the solution in helping communities get back on track. He plans on visiting every county twice over the next year in his run for Governor.

“Many employers here are seeing as high as 25 percent in their workforce unable to fill seats and unable to fill positions in their company,” Rognstad said. “The number reason they are struggling with hiring and retaining workers is that the cost of housing or access to housing is out of reach for much of their workforce.”

The City of Ketchum is currently discussing a short-term rental ordinance similar to Sandpoint’s. They plan to do a first reading of the draft ordinance at their next council meeting.

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