The City of McCall is five months into its Local Housing Action Plan process.
The city is working with a diverse group of professionals, including an attorney, planners, policy workers, residents from other resort towns, and others who can contribute to the housing crisis conversation.
The committee has one main goal: finding solutions to the housing shortage.
“It’s just kind of asking industry professionals who have a history of working, in this case, with other mountain towns to figure out creative solutions to book up the local housing market for the workforce and generational community members against all of the challenges that we face,” Assistant City Planner Meredith Todd said.
Todd said working with this committee allows for knowledgeable people to dive into policy options for local housing and learn about tools other towns are using to alleviate the housing shortage.
Top identified issues
Todd said there were two “distinct” needs the committee has identified within the housing market.
First, she said they need a “basket” of winter and summer rental units available to support the workforce in this seasonal tourist town.
“We’ve noticed that we have the summer college workers that have traditionally come into town to make a bit more money in the resort industry and then we have the winter workforce that comes into work at Tamarack or work at Brundage or work in the ski shops,” Todd said. “But since they’re not around year-round, for the most part, it’s really hard for them to secure housing, both on the employer side and on the employee side.”
The second need is entry-level ownership housing – something that has been decimated during the housing crisis. This includes starter homes and housing for younger people or individuals who are in the early to midway stages of their careers.
According to Intermountain MLS, the median home price in Valley County is $773,750, which is not a starter home price tag.
The median price is the halfway point of all homes sold in a time period.
“There are homes that when you look at them, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice starter home,’ but it’s not because the market has gone up,” she said. “So at least for the entry-level, homeownership market, the way we’ve seen that created in Vail and Breckenridge and other towns is through the deed restrictions. And that in a weird way, decreases the market value of the home because there are restrictions on who can occupy it. But it doesn’t decrease it to a level that it’s not worth money.”
Right now, McCall has a couple of programs in place to help with local housing, including an incentive program and a deed restriction program. If a property owner or developer puts a deed restriction on the property, they get a $10,000 check from local option tax money. This encourages developers to restrict housing for the workforce.
While the committee believes this is a “good start” for the city, Todd said they have found that the incentive program could use some love.
“What they’ve noticed is that our incentives could use a lot of help. Meaning like actually incentivizing getting deed restrictions made or getting local units reserved and on the books,” Todd said. “So they’re looking at finding creative ways to generate funding because restrictions and incentives always cost money, whether that be an actual dollars or like fee waivers, tax reimbursements, things like that.”
Currently, the Sewer District is working on a Sewer Master Plan for repairs and upgrades over the coming years. The committee looked at how sewer-related challenges in infrastructure have been addressed in other communities with similar local-housing issues.
“Some of the ideas offered from our committee that could help include prioritizing sewer hookups for local-housing-related projects, assisting with sewer upgrades and repairs on a project-by-project basis, and working in partnership with the sewer district to ensure development proposals account adequately for sewer needs,” Communications Manager Erin Greaves said over email.
The committee is also exploring other ways to utilize the Local option Tax and annexation policies to leverage more housing outside of city limits.
Resident feedback is an important piece in finding housing solutions. That is why the city has sent out a couple of surveys to garner feedback. One survey targeted all residents, and another was for business owners specifically. Todd said “anecdotally” the city has noticed that the business sector has really struggled during the housing shortage as that often equates to an employee shortage.
Todd said these surveys they have sent out the past couple of years are like a “mini census” with a focus on housing. She said the city was able to see what was going on in the city post-COVID housing boom.
“They (census numbers) showed that our occupancy levels went up by a whole bunch and that our population increased by a whole bunch,” Todd said.
However, she added that those numbers were likely inflated by people who were residents for the COVID time period but have since moved back home as the world returns to normal.
“So our permanent population during COVID and when the census was taken kind of inflated what we see as the reality in the workforce and the long-term residential population. So, we can’t call any of it official because technically the census wins everything but it’s definitely been telling the occupancy of our town is a struggle.”
The short-term rental influx is often pointed to as the leading problem with the housing shortage – though the committee has found through committee meetings that may not be the case.
“Most of the property management companies in the area offer discounted rates and incentives to their clients to convert to a long-term rental, which is a practice that municipalities elsewhere have actually created grant funding to do,” She said. “So they’re doing it independently within the private market.
Todd adds that it was a surprise for people in the room to learn this.
“It was a surprise to everyone in the room, in that even people who manage and operate businesses surrounding short-term rentals for the most part, they are taking the initiative to try and encourage property owners to convert because they know that it’s a community need and a market base that’s underserved so they see the business opportunity in trying to convince people to make money a different way, and they can actually make more money.”
She said this information has steered the short-term rental conversation in a new direction. Todd said they are working out how to remind property owners and members of the community that there are different ways to use those properties.
“And maybe you can make more money, and maybe you can rent somebody else’s property that’s on the lake for free as a reward, something like that,” Todd said. “So it’s resulted in I think, encouraging information, where it started tenuous at best. A lot of people came into the room and they were like, ‘it’s the short-term rentals.’ And then after reviewing all of the data, they were like, ‘Oh, there’s some opportunity here.'”
All of the information that is found will be put in a packet and presented to the McCall City Council for review. Once adopted, the Housing Action Plan can be used as a guide by stakeholders, employers, or other groups.
This Housing Action Plan envisions projects and steps for McCall over the next several years to address housing needs.
The committee will make their presentations on June 10th. To read more about the Local Housing Action Plan, click here.
Correction: This article was updated to reflect the current status of the sewer plans and the timeline for the Local Housing Action Plan.