The Lumberjill

I’m sorry I peed on your house… and other thoughts on affordable housing

By Jen Jackson Quintano
Reader Staff

As the lone female on the crew, the bathroom situation is typically the most challenging for me. While the guys can simply sidle up to a tree or fence, turning their backs to potential onlookers, the female anatomy makes a discrete pee harder to accomplish. Working in town is the worst, with the houses all packed in together, roads and alleys intruding everywhere. 

On a recent workday downtown, I was desperately searching for a surreptitious means of offloading my morning coffee, but to no avail. The best I could find was at the side of a seemingly vacant garage in the alley, its one proffered privacy wall better than none at all. Unfortunately, the rundown shed I had selected for cover was not in fact abandoned; no, it was inhabited. The resident no doubt observed me hastily pulling up my pants at the side of her abode. Oops. My apologies, whomever you are. Had I known my latrine was in fact the side of someone’s home, I would have chosen differently. 

But I didn’t know. Who would have guessed that alley sheds are the latest entry into the rental market? Yet they are, because that is the kind of rental market we have in Sandpoint. That is how untenable our housing situation has become.

Jen Jackson Quintano. Courtesy photo.

In recent weeks, the Reader has explored Sandpoint’s red-hot housing market and its deleterious effect on the area workforce. With rent typically hovering around $2,000 a month and homeownership setting a person back upwards of $600,000, how are Sandpoint’s workers supposed to afford roofs over their heads? Well, by living in the kind of structures one (i.e., me) might consider peeing on: converted garages and sheds, camper trailers, storage units or vehicles. 

Even these options aren’t cheap or easy to come by. 

A Selle Valley resident is charging $700 a month for the privilege of parking one’s camper on his land. The local trailer parks are at capacity and finding a storage unit (which, yes, I understand is illegal to inhabit) is nearly impossible.

I have nothing against thinking — nor living — outside the box when it comes to housing. My husband and I spent our first three years together in a camper trailer, living frugally while we built our business and saved up for a future down payment. We enjoyed our years in the trailer, but part of that enjoyment came from the fact that it was temporary. It was a means to an end. It was an adventure. We knew we were not stuck living within arm’s reach of one another forever. 

Back in 2012, that was possible. Homeownership was within grasp. Once we snagged our five acres and seemingly palatial 650-square-foot cabin, we had room to grow as both a business and a family. Things took off for us.

Today, however, it seems that saving money for a down payment while living in a trailer is an ill-conceived endeavor — especially if you’re paying $700 a month simply to park that trailer somewhere. So then, what is the point of living in a garage, vehicle or camper if you have zero hope of ever getting out of said garage/vehicle/camper (aside from the obvious benefits of living with a smaller footprint and not contributing so heavily to the dumpster fire that is climate change)? Why continue to toil in Sandpoint if Sandpoint’s housing options continue to fail you?

As a business owner, Sandpoint’s failures sometimes feel like my own. I cannot provide adequate housing for my employees. I cannot provide an adequate salary to afford what adequate housing now costs. How am I to retain really amazing, highly trained and motivated help in a town that’s kicking its workers to the curb and welcoming moneyed outsiders and investors with open arms? 

If I don’t cultivate a bevy of anchored employees, I am not cultivating a sustainable future for my business. 

This is not just my problem, it’s everyone’s problem in Sandpoint — even if you’re lucky enough to afford a house; even if your financial situation is secure. Because here’s the deal: No amount of money will fix your plumbing when there are no plumbers, serve your favorite beer when there is no waitstaff or educate your children when the teachers have departed. We are all interconnected. A lack of affordable housing is everyone’s problem.

In related news, the Daily Bee recently reported that the school district is in desperate need of substitute teachers, but these subs make between $13,000 and $20,000 a year, which is less than some of their students make working low-wage service jobs. Where, exactly, are we expecting those teachers to live?

Here’s an idea: Wouldn’t it be great if our workforce — teachers, nurses, waitstaff, etc. — could inhabit all the lakeshore vacation homes that are vacant 75% of the year? When you think of it in those terms, we’re not actually dealing with a housing shortage — we have plenty! — but it’s about allocation of resources. Isn’t that always the case? 

Short of mansion-squatting en masse, the only contributions I have are small-scale Band-Aid fixes. When an employee is in need, I will invite him or her to live on our property — and I will encourage that employee to swipe right on all Sandpoint homeowners on Tinder. At this point, it seems like you have to marry into a home here. If possible, I’ll help with a rental deposit or a down payment for a valued employee. It’s worth it to me. It should be worth it to you, too. We all have a stake in keeping our workforce rooted here. 

In the meantime, those who choose to stay in Sandpoint will find housing where they can, typically at the margins. Unconventionally. Semi-affordably. In sheds and campers and trucks. 

I offer a heartfelt thank-you to those who continue to serve their community even when the community is not reciprocating. And I promise to never again pee on your doorstep.

Jen Jackson Quintano writes and runs an arborist business with her husband in Sandpoint. Find their website at See more of Quintano’s writing at

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