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‘Nowhere to go:’ Eviction of 11 Latino families sheds light on Ketchum housing crunch

UPDATED: Tue., May 3, 2022

By Rachel Spacek Idaho Statesman

Enrique De la Cruz has lived in Ketchum for 15 years with his wife, daughter and adult son.

De la Cruz, who stocks shelves at the Hailey Albertsons, and his family have a mobile home at J&J Trailer Park off Idaho 75, near St. Luke’s Hospital. They and 10 other families live in a small cul-de-sac. Most of the families are Latino and speak only Spanish; they work in restaurants, grocery stores and hotels. Their children play together with family dogs or in their front yards.

Their quiet community was disrupted last November, when the occupants of the 10 mobile homes got an eviction notice from Rolling Rock Properties. The Ketchum development company instructed the families, in English, to leave the property by May 31.

The families contacted Herbert Romero, a local activist who works at a crisis hotline helping Spanish-speaking residents in the Sun Valley area. Romero tried to help, but little could be done – Rolling Rock owns the mobile home park land and has plans to develop it.

The families actually want to leave, De la Cruz said. They don’t want to stay somewhere they are not wanted, he said, but the problem is there are few places for people with low and middle incomes to live in Sun Valley and Ketchum.

On Sunday, with 30 days left until the eviction date, the families stood in a circle to listen to Romero explain their options.

“We’re not staying on your land,” De la Cruz said, speaking Spanish. “We are going to move, we’re not even asking for specific amount of time just give us time to continue to do what we need to do to move out of this lot. And hopefully stay in this community, Ketchum. But to highly consider an extension to give us hope for our families.”

A need for affordable housing

Downtown Ketchum is a tidy mix of high-rise apartments, hotels and expensive retail shops, with the Sun Valley ski resort and Sawthooth Range as a backdrop. The city draws Idahoans year-round, and is known to be the vacation home of celebrities and millionaires.

But as building has slowed and population has grown, there are fewer options for the area’s low- and middle-income workers – an affordable housing crisis the J&J Trailer Park residents are experiencing firsthand, and one that stretches beyond just hospitality and restaurant workers.

According to a housing needs assessment conducted by the city between 2021 and January 2022, Ketchum needs between 660 and 980 homes in the next 10 years to meet demand. Ketchum’s population grew from 2,689 in 2010 to 3,555 a decade later, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

The city’s workforce makes under $45,355 per year, or $23 an hour, according to the assessment, and about 60% of the renters in Ketchum spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

On Sunday, a group called Occupy Ketchum Town Square held a rally downtown to call on elected officials to support affordable housing and to encourage Blaine County residents to approve an increase in the local option sales tax to support housing projects.

Blanca Romero, a Blaine County School District board member, said at the rally that the district has 46 open positions it is struggling to fill because those people would not be able to afford to live in Ketchum. According to the district website, the open positions include teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians and coaches.

Stephen McDougall Graham, Blaine County clerk, also spoke at the rally. He could not encourage attendees to vote one way or another on the local option tax, but he shared his struggle with finding housing.

Graham said he and his wife have had to move three times in the past 18 months because the owners of their rentals decided to sell.

“Each time that happened it was really terrifying, stressful,” Graham said. “We couldn’t find anything under $2,500 a month.”

Graham said they eventually bought a home after putting in eight separate offers. He said the experience opened his eyes to the “five-alarm-fire housing crisis” that Ketchum has.

J&J Trailer Park families ask for more time

Romero said the mobile home residents are asking Kris Dondero, the owner of Rolling Rock, for an extension on the May 31 eviction date, to allow them more time to move their homes or sell them.

“We’re here at the service of the community,” De la Cruz said. “We’re here to serve the community. And we want the city and the valley to know, to help us to stay here in this community.”

Marina Hinojo Camayo, another resident, said she has had trouble sleeping ever since her family got the eviction notice.

Camayo, who has lived there for nine years, explained that it isn’t that the residents are refusing to leave – it’s that there is nothing they can afford nearby.

“No tenemos dónde ir,” Camayo said. “We have nowhere to go.”

Dondero, whose company has owned the J&J Trailer Park for 15 years, plans to build high-density workforce housing. He hopes it will help families like the ones facing eviction.

“The lack of affordable housing in the Wood River Valley is the reason that I am undertaking this venture in the first place, as this project will provide much improved workforce housing for far more residents once completed,” Dondero told the Statesman in an email. “Finding affordable housing for the current tenants is a huge concern of mine.”

The Idaho Mountain Express has reported that some of Dondero’s housing units will be set aside for local employees at a discounted rate.

Camayo said her housing situation is affecting her employment. She works in the kitchen at Apple’s Bar and Grill but has not chosen a schedule for the summer because she doesn’t know where she’ll be.

“I am accustomed to being here in Ketchum,” Camayo said.

Dondero also said he might be open to altering the May 31 move-out date.

“I am currently looking to find ways that would make an optional extension possible, and I hope to have a definitive answer shortly,” Dondero said.

Next steps for displaced Ketchum residents

Tammy Davis, executive director of the Ketchum Crisis Hotline, teamed up with Romero to help the J&J residents. The pair’s new initiative is called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and it was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage community outreach to vulnerable communities.

Davis has thrown herself into working with the Latino families. She connected a few to the Meadows Mobile Home Park, about a mile south of J&J, where they hope they can move their homes and continue living. Davis said she also hopes some families can move into Country Chalet and Suntree Hollow, two mobile home parks across the highway from the J&J location.

Three families who were living at J&J Trailer Park moved out and were able to find other homes, Davis said. But those families were white and spoke English proficiently, she said.

“It’s just the process and not understanding the process,” Davis said. “We have a one-dimensional approach to things. ‘Well, it’s on the website,’ but it’s not in Spanish. Or we have Spanish families, Latino families that can’t read. So we have to be a little more proactive, especially in situations like this.”

If the families cannot relocate to other mobile home parks, they might have to leave Ketchum.

Kris Gilarowski, a Ketchum resident and the organizer of Occupy Ketchum Town Square, said many low- and middle-income Ketchum residents have been pushed to move as far as Jerome and Twin Falls, roughly 80 miles away.

“Time is against us,” Romero said. “And the only person who can unlock that time for us is Kris Dondero.”

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