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St. Luke's developing affordable housing solution for employees in Blaine County

Posted at 2:50 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 16:50:29-04

BLAINE COUNTY — Affordable housing has been an ongoing issue in Blaine County. With a lack of availability and affordability, many are starting to leave the area.

This issue has been impacting employment for St. Luke's in the Wood River Valley.

“We’ve known that in Blaine county, historically, the cost of living, specifically when it comes to real estate, has been higher than the rest of our state," Michelle Griffith, Executive Director for ARCH Community Housing Trust, said.

St. Luke's Wood River Valley currently has 69 open positions, a rate much higher than the other three hospitals in the region, and they say it is due to housing issues.

“Affordable housing in a resort community is somewhat different from the national situation. Our community is very heavily impacted by second homeowners, by residents who earn their income outside of the Wood River Valley,” Griffith said.

But the health system is coming up with a solution for their employees. With the help of ARCH Community Housing Trust, St. Luke's is working to develop a 12-unity affordable housing solution.

“The unique and important aspect of this is that we’re not saying, ok who can afford this house. We’re saying what can this family afford. That’s what they’re going to pay," Griffith said.

St. Luke's has been struggling with filling open positions in their Wood River Valley location even before the pandemic.

Despite offering financial incentives, health officials say the lack of affordable housing and the cost of living are frequently cited as reasons for declining employment offers. This issue doesn't just affect potential candidates it's impacting those already employed.

“We have countless stories of our employees that have been in rental units that have then been notified that their home is going for sale or no longer going to be available. And that stress that it places on them, especially as Michelle highlighted before the supply issue. There’s not a lot of rentals available long term," Carmen Jacobsen, Chief Nursing Officer for St. Luke's Wood River Valley, said.

This issue isn't new either. According to the Blaine County Housing Authority, in the past nine years, the median purchase price for a two-bedroom house increased by 48%. And residents have voiced concerns.
Earlier this year, Ketchum City officials met with Blaine County residents about the ongoing housing crisis in the area.

Related: Ketchum city leaders, residents discuss the area's housing crisis

The pandemic has also magnified this issue. With work from home offered as an option in more industries, more people moved to the area.

“Many, many people decided that they were going to work in a resort community where they could be outside and recreate and have access to more outdoor activities. That is what put the pressure on rental housing that Carmen described," Griffith said.

The construction for four of the homes will begin this fall. The other eight homes will be started next spring.

The homes will be long-term rentals for St. Luke's Wood River Valley employees. The health system will select those who meet the criteria as determined by the hospital.

Those selected for housing must also remain employed by St. Luke's.

“The goal is the affordability so that we can create and continue to attract a talented workforce in this community," Jacobsen said.