Local employers have voiced concern over the lack of available housing for employees in St. Maries. Some employers say they think that is why there is a challenge with hiring and keeping employees.
Valley Vista and Benewah Community Hospital CEO, Chuck Lloyd, said that he agrees that a lack of affordable housing in the area is a problem when it comes to hiring and keeping good help.
“BCH just met this last week and we were discussing the staffing issue,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Affordable housing is the key.”
Mr. Lloyd said that BCH has 12 full-time nursing positions open and that the hospital has had a hard time filling and keeping people in those positions.
He said that he has had several employees start by commuting to the area, but a majority of those commuters can’t find housing in St. Maries or the surrounding area before winter hits.
“We get a lot of people who are willing to commute but when winter hits they don’t want to do that anymore,” Mr. Lloyd said. “They tend to go for the closer job market in Coeur d’Alene.”
Mr. Lloyd thinks the solution would be to create more affordable housing such as duplexes, apartments and homes that would be suited for single families.
“It would be nice to see houses priced more at $125,000 to $175,000,” Mr. Lloyd said.
Another employer in the area, the St. Maries School District, also expressed concerns around the current housing market in St. Maries.
St. Maries Superintendent, Alica Holthaus, said that while she feels like she doesn’t miss out on good employees due to a lack of housing, she still feels it affects a lot of people in the area.
“It’s a concern because I’m seeing how quickly houses and property are selling, its tight and getting tighter,” Ms. Holthaus said. “People are trying to go more rural.”
Ms. Holthaus said that usually when they hire a new employee who may be new to the area, they try to get them resources for finding housing in the area quickly.
“When we get someone new we try to tell them early to try to find a house now,” Ms. Holthaus said. “We gather info for them to look at and try to get our new hire conscious of the issue.”
PotlatchDeltic, the largest employer in the area, has also expressed concerns regarding a lack of housing in the area.
The PotlatchDeltic Human Resources Manager, Bonnie Siron, said that she has seen a lot of employees commute to work as well.
“It’s about 10 percent of our employees who commute,” Ms. Siron said. “A lot of them do get tired of the commute once winter hits and by that time may have found something closer in Coeur d’Alene.”
She said that while finding property to buy or finding a house is difficult, the main problem she sees is a lack of short term housing options.
“People don’t jump into buying a house as soon as we hire them, usually they need to find somewhere temporary to work towards that,” Ms. Siron said. “It’s hard to find available short term housing that is affordable and close by.”
“I’ve had a lot of employees who have had to stay in a camper through the winter,” Ms. Siron said.
She also mentioned that those who buy or already own property still have issues with even building a house as there are not as many available contractors in the area to take on those jobs.
“I’ve heard of it taking up to two years just for a lot of contractors to get to you since there is a limited amount of people who do that around here,” Ms. Siron said.
PotlatchDeltic Complex Manager, Steve Henson, said that while he does see a need for affordable housing in the area, he thinks that building homes and apartments could bring even more competition to those in the area.
“People want to move here and we’ve seen more out of state people coming here and buying property,” Mr. Henson said. “The problem is if more places to live are built in town then the locals will have to compete with those wanting to move here from out of town.”
Mr. Henson also said that as employees in the area retire, not a lot of those people are keen to move out of the area. Due to that fact, not a lot of older property comes up for sale.
“You don’t see a lot of people retire and decide they want to move away from St. Maries and go to Arizona,” Mr. Henson said. “They may go to Arizona for two weeks but they are holding on to the property they have.”
Local economic development organization, Timber Plus, has taken on the prospect of bringing more affordable housing to the area. Chairman Alex Barta said that housing plays a large part of Timber Plus’ vision for economic development in the area.
“The board voted to focus on housing and use that as a catalyst for overall economic development,” Mr. Barta said. “Every aspect of development is tied together, so improving one piece should help improve others. More available homes mean more potential employees for our business, more students in our schools, more tax revenue for the city and the county,and more customers for our businesses.”
Mr. Barta said that so far Timber Plus has funded a housing needs assessment through EMSI, a firm in Moscow. He said that working with EMSI has been a tool to recruit potential developers to the area.
He said that Timber Plus has made progress on bring developers to the area but the process doesn’t happen over night.
“We have made progress, but these things take time to happen,” Mr. Barta said. “The business community and local government recognize the need for more affordable housing, so I feel confident that it will happen.”