Rent, buy, sell: That big boom feeling

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

It’s hard to live in the greater Sandpoint area and not feel the pulsing boom of the newcomers, home-buyers, rental-seekers, land-sellers and everyone stuck somewhere in between. Within the past week, the “Mayor’s Roundtable” column in the Reader advocated for the protection of the open spaces that make the region beautiful while the article “Zoom Boom: Tensions between regulation and deregulation,” by Susan Drumheller and published in the Feb. 25 edition of the Reader, put actual numbers to — and reasons behind — the unprecedented shift in our local make-up.

Beyond what can be adequately quantified on property tax rolls and regional maps are the personal anecdotes related while standing in line to get coffee, spoken between sips of beer and shared about a friend-of-a-friend who had to move away because they couldn’t afford to live here anymore.

Emily Erickson.

With an interest in all those narratives, I solicited stories from friends on my Facebook page, inquiring about their recent personal experiences (good, bad or otherwise) with buying, selling or renting within the greater Sandpoint area. I was flooded with responses, providing a small snapshot of how many 20- to 40-somethings are feeling amid the “Big Boom.”

A Bonner General Hospital employee wrote, “I moved here in 2017. I casually browsed listed homes in town with no intention of buying since I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here. There was a particular listing that caught my eye [selling for] $138,000 in town, but I found my dream rental instead and have been there ever since. That home is $330,000 now. I kick myself. I’ve had two coworkers leave the area because they can’t afford it on Idaho wages.

‘Poverty with a view,’ they say. I’ll likely never own a home up here now. Unless the market crashes.”

A Schweitzer employee explained, “Working-class people can’t afford to buy homes in this town when not so long ago they used to be able to. I started exploring the option to buy in the fall, and quickly realized it isn’t an option. Which is frustrating because finding a decent rental, especially one that will take a pet, is nearly just as hard.”

A Dover homeowner wrote, “I have lived in Sandpoint for close to 14 years. After renting for most of the time, I purchased my first home (ever) in 2018… At the time we bought, prices were just starting to go up so we feel that we really scored a deal on our one-acre [plot and] home in Dover, where houses down the street are now selling for half a million. I have considered selling. But, in order to sell, you have to have somewhere to go.”

She continued, speaking from a business owner’s perspective,  “As a small business, we cannot even afford to lease a commercial space to start-up, let alone pay employees livable wages in a town with the rents and mortgages skyrocketing. We’re going to have this quaint little mountain town full of chains because those are going to be the only employers that can provide adequate wages and handle the high costs themselves.”

A lakeside renter wrote, “I’m planning to build a tiny house this year and be prepared to be mobile. I did try to discuss [purchasing my rental] with the owner, to which he scoffed, ‘You’ll never be able to afford this piece of land.’ Which is a fairly likely statement [that] reeks of the rapacious paradigm we have created, not just here, but systemically. I’m grateful, with some fear and certainly enough anger to go around.”

The collective feeling is not all passive, however. There were some responses to my prompt that spoke to the importance of taking responsibility when necessary and being called to action when it’s within our means.

One Sandpoint homeowner wrote, “The increasing demand in housing should also be attributed to the younger generation moving away from cities and into small towns now that we can work from home more easily. There is a psychological movement similar to the back-to-the-land migration of the ’70s in our [Millennials] generation. We can complain about increased housing prices, but we are equally to blame.”

I was also directed to the Bonner Community Housing Agency to learn about the multi-faceted approach it is taking to assist the community in every stage of the housing process. 

According to its website, “From working with bare landowners who want to leave a positive impact and legacy, to the first-time home buyer looking to establish a future for their families,” the BCHA provides mortgage supplements, acts as a real-estate liaison, assists in property rehabilitation and acquires donated land to further responsible development endeavors.

Change is inevitable and growth is happening. While it’s OK to participate in that change; to profit, to buy and sell and rent in a way that is financially advantageous, it’s also important to consider the people being displaced or stymied by that participation.

When possible, donate to or volunteer with the organizations doing good work, build an accessory dwelling unit and rent it out at an affordable rate, sell to your long-term tenant or find creative ways to support people who are having a hard time. 

In the balancing act of sellers and buyers, newcomers and renters, we have to actively seek out and create solutions to maintain the kind of community in which the people who are essential to its fabric are also afforded the opportunity to live comfortably and well.

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