Less than a month ago came the latest plaudits for Sandpoint from the national media.
The town was touted as one of the top 10 “coolest mountain towns” by Men’s Journal magazine, following similar sales jobs by USA Today, Outside magazine and Sunset magazine in the last couple of years.
But while the adulation is shared by many town residents, locals also see a dark side to all the attention – skyrocketing real estate prices, which are pricing some locals out of town.
And it’s not just the low-income folks, but moderate-income residents, too, who are hurt by the escalating cost of living.
“One family had to move because, when the housing market exploded this summer, their landlord decided to raise their rent from $800 a month to $1,200,” said Brenda Hammond, manager of the Bonner County Community Action Agency, which helps low-income people with energy assistance and other programs.
Such stories are the backdrop for a community forum this Saturday to explore the issues of growth.
“Growing Pains: Opportunities and Challenges of Growth,” sponsored by the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and SEED (Seeking Equitable Economic Development), will feature speakers on property taxes, affordable housing, employment, education and health care.
The keynote speaker is James Nelson of the University of Idaho, who will speak on a holistic approach to community and economic development.
While the morning program is educational, organizers have set aside time in the afternoon to try to brainstorm solutions to some of the pressing problems facing the community.
“We’re not going to just harp and whine,” Hammond said. “It’s not inevitable that we become another Aspen (Colo.). There is something we can do about it.”
Sandpoint is wealthy with social capital, Hammond said, meaning the community has a lot of people who care and are willing to work on solutions.
One of the biggest concerns is affordable housing.
Families trying to get rental assistance must wait at least three years in North Idaho to qualify for any help. In fact, the last time a household was added to the federal Section 8 rental assistance program in North Idaho was in 2002, said Reed Hollinshead, spokesman for the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.
According to the latest census of employment and wages in Bonner County, 37 percent of residents make less than $10 per hour. That’s not enough to pay rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Bonner County, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Saturday’s forum is a free event scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the City Forum, downtown on Third Avenue next door to Pend Oreille Winery. For information, call (208) 263-6893.