The virus pandemic forced millions of Americans to work remotely. In return, those with economic mobility could ditch the city life for rural areas, such as upscale mountain towns.
A flood of people poured into small resort towns such as Ketchum, located in Blaine County, Idaho, has created a multi-pronged issue, such as affordable living and labor shortages.
Ketchum is a small community of 3,000 people nestled in the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho. The resort community is an outdoor enthusiast's dream, with four seasons of fun. But ever since the pandemic struck, city-dwellers from around the country descended on the small town, able to work remotely but created a surge in housing prices and a boom in economic activity.
No one can deny economic booms are great, but logistically, Ketchum was in no shape or form to handle what came next.
WSJ interviewed low-level workers in the town and found many of them could find jobs but could not afford homes or rentals.
Ethan McKee-Bakos worked two jobs in the mountain town and lived in his SUV in the nearby national park for two months because when home prices jumped in the area, so did rental rates.
"If you live in Ketchum, there's no shortage of work. There's just a shortage of where you can live," said McKee-Bakos, who works at a local hospital and a bar. "This is the first time I've experienced any homelessness."
As we noted before (read: "Urban Flight During Pandemic Made Rent Less Affordable Across US"), Ketchum faces an affordable housing crisis as supply was gobbled up by out-of-towners trying to escape the pandemic and social-economic woes of major West Coast cities. The rapid demand for homes quickly priced out low-income workers not just from owning a home but also from renting one.
WSJ notes that "some workers live in trailers or tents" in Sawtooth National Forest, which is 40 miles away. The waiting list for affordable housing units for sale or rent in the surrounding county is years long.
Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw has addressed the housing crisis affecting the working poor, the small town's economic heartbeat because they are the ones that work at local shops. He even considered erecting a "temporarily" tent city in the town.
"Idaho is a beautiful place. People are willing to compromise low wages to live here. Well, now they don't have a place to live," said Bradshaw.
Even though Blaine County didn't make the National Association of Realtors list of the top ten vacation home counties, housing prices have still risen 20% in the past year, to around half a million dollars. As for apartments, rent for a two-bedroom unit is up 47% over the same period, to $2,525.
Home and rent price shocks have terrible effects on locals who are being priced out of their own community. The median household income in the area is about $57,000, 2019 census numbers show.
Even a city council member of Ketchum is having difficulty obtaining a permanent residence. Michael David, a city councilor, told WSJ he had been priced out of buying a home and can no longer afford rent after a rapid surge in prices.
Many of the town's working-poor gathered in May in the town square to address the housing affordability crisis and for officials to embrace a new 56-unit housing project in the downtown region.
Krzysztof Gilarowski, a front-desk manager at the Limelight Hotel who planned the gathering, said the resort town could begin to lose its working-poor as they have nowhere to live.
"If you can't attract people to work and live here, if guests can't book a restaurant reservation because there's not enough staff for the restaurant to open every night, people won't see Ketchum as such an attractive destination either," Gilarowski said.
The mayor has proposed temporary housing measures, such as allowing RVs to park overnight in public areas or private land to address the housing crisis in the intermediate-term.
"I'm deeply concerned about the viability of our town if we don't have the workforce to support our local businesses and entrepreneurs," he said.
If working-poor can't find affordable living, this up-scale resort town may soon experience labor shortages.
Homes in the mountains and small resort towns have been hot commodities during the pandemic, as city dwellers wanted clean air and space. However, there's one unintentional side effect of new money flooding these rural communities, that is, locals and the working-poor are being priced out of homeownership and or enting.
WSJ said, "Other resort towns across the West are facing similar problems."