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Sandpoint service industry feels the crunch as housing prices continue to soar

Sandpoint has limited space to build and is geographically stuck between Schweitzer and Lake Pend Oreille.
Credit: Emily Bonsant
In downtown Sandpoint multiple businesses display help wanted signs and corrected hours due to staffing needs.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Housing prices are on the rise and the service industry is feeling the crunch, as reported by KREM 2 news partner the Bonner County Daily Bee. In response, local real estate officials and business owners are hoping to start a conversation on how locals can overcome future housing issues.

“An apartment near the Ponderay Walmart costs $2,300 a month in rent. Someone making $5,000 a month would be paying almost 50 percent of their income on rent. This is not affordable housing,” said Luke Webster, Realtor at Evergreen Realty.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Development defines “affordable housing” as only 30 percent of someone’s income.

A single wide trailer costs $250,000. Under the HUD’s affordable housing definition, the only people that can afford this are two dual incomes of $50,000 a year and they don’t want to live in a trailer, said Webster.

Webster suggests if locals can afford to buy an extra piece of land in a bedroom community they should in order to subdivide it in the future. If you have a business and need space look into building north of North 40 Outfitters or south of Sagle, he said. Those locations will only grow in the next few years.

“Locals can sell, but where will they live,” said Raphael Barta of Century 21 RiverStone. Webster agreed.

Sandpoint has limited space to build and is geographically stuck between Schweitzer and Lake Pend Oreille, Webster and Barta said.

Kootenai County is growing and the state’s two northernmost counties are feeling the push and influx of people moving north, said Webster.

It is known that Sandpoint locals and officials have always “sneered” at Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls for their suburban sprawl, while trying to keep Sandpoint picturesque. Post Falls has open fields that accommodate housing. Sandpoint does not have the space and is becoming like Aspen, Vale, Jackson Hole and other mountain resort towns, Barta said.

Such cities as the ones above are beautiful, but the locals are out-priced which causes the service industry to dwindle and negatively affects local businesses. We are seeing this in Bonner County, said Barta and Webster.

“The city’s new comprehensive plan is not put together well. It has nothing to do with the current administration and now landowners have lost the ability to subdivide land,” said Webster.

“The city is trying to solve this housing problem, but five years ago this problem was obvious,” said Barta.

As the city and the area’s major employers look into affordable housing options, Barta and Webster are not convinced that this housing option will solve the current problem.

State housing doesn’t inspire people, said Webster. Typically affordable housing doesn’t include garages in order to cut costs. People need a garage, for small business and championing the entrepreneurial spirit, he said.

In response to the city encouraging accessory dwelling units and single family dwellings, Barta said, this a start, but we need hundreds of homes not 20 that would out price locals.

Barta said deed-restricted local housing would remedy part of the housing shortage that the area is facing.

“Deed-restricted housing would require that locals buying a house would agree not to sell or flip the house in two years for twice the purchase price. This is a common practice,” said Barta.

“Locals buy for shelter, not to flip,” Barta said. “A buyer would never disagree with a deed restricted house because they need a place to live.”

While some might contend officials would be overstepping their authority, Barta disagreed.

“If the government doesn’t interfere we will not have housing [and this] is coming from a right-wing capitalist,” Barta said.

Sandpoint will get the community it deserves if something isn’t done, Barta said. Then only the wealthy will be able to live here.

Building a tiny home, getting creative with housing, or living on family land is a good idea, but it doesn’t solve the overall problem, he added.

“As an employer, how do I find housing for employees? How does the service industry still function if there is no housing for servers and retail workers?” Webster said.

A walk around the city’s downtown core shows help wanted signs in every other window, from restaurants to retail shops and everything in between. One of those business owners, Justin Dick of Trinity at City Beach, is asking many of the same questions about growth, affordability, lack of workforce and housing.

“As an employer, it is tough seeing which employee you will help,” Dick said. “You have to invest in employees that are willing to take on more responsibility.”

Why should an employer invest in an employee who only wants to work three days a week, Dick asked. He added if someone wants to live in Sandpoint and wants the hours they will take on more responsibility at work.

Dick has a condo that he rents out to employees. Other business owners rent to employees as well, Dick said. Because of the cost of rent and lack of apartments some of the employees at Trinity commute from as far as Newport, Washington.

Commuting to Sandpoint is an option, said Barta. However, he noted that employees who live outside of the county spend their disposable incomes outside of the local economy.

Dick, Webster and Barta think locals need to come together to solve current housing and employment problems.

“To be in Sandpoint you have to work for it, we do it because living here is worth it,” Dick said.

“You have to get in a house, you have to save 20-40% of your income if you are ever going to own a piece of North Idaho,” Webster said.

“There is a way out of this if the community pulls together. When things get desperate the best ideas come,” Barta said. “Hopefully the mayor and his housing council can find a solution.”

The Bonner County Daily Bee is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here