School leaders in two resort towns get creative to offer affordable housing for staff — with mixed results

In the greater McCall area, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, and other school staff can’t afford to buy a home. 

Even Superintendent Eric Pingrey is priced out, and lives in a year-to-year rental. 

It’s a barrier to filling vacancies and recruiting new hires, Pingrey said. Those who know about the housing costs “just don’t apply.” Others who are unaware accept jobs, only to cancel when they can’t find a place to live. 

Recently, McCall-Donnelly School District put a $14 million bond ask on the May ballot. The funds would’ve paid for staff housing, but voters rejected the measure with just 42% support — far short of the 66.67% needed.

Pingrey wasn’t surprised: “It’s really tough economic times right now all across the country, including Idaho.”

Eric Pingrey

For now, district leaders are focusing on finishing a unit of eight staff apartments that’s expected to be ready this winter. The district paid for it by “digging through the couches and trying to find all the money we could,” Pingrey said. That entailed selling land and dipping into rainy day funds. 

The storm at hand: The median home listing price on is nearly $850,000, as compared to the average teacher pay of about $73,000 — well above the state average of about $62,000, but still not enough to purchase a home. In that climate, openings are too often going unfilled. 

School leaders had hoped to build three more units of eight apartments with the bond funds, but that will have to be put on hold.

McCall is among a few such resort towns in Idaho grappling to attract and retain staff amid a housing crisis. Blaine County School District, which serves towns like Ketchum and Hailey, is in similar straits. School leaders there are offering rent relief and working with a local nonprofit to build affordable housing. 

The novel approaches to an increasingly-urgent problem have been in the works for years, and will start to come to fruition in these two communities this school year. 

As McCall housing prices have soared, qualified applicants have dwindled

In McCall, where the sparkling Payette Lake and forested mountains attract tourists, city-dwellers seeking nature, and the wealthy, the town’s population of about 3,000 can more than triple during summers and holidays. Many of the area’s houses are second or third homes or short-term rentals, exacerbating housing issues. 

Housing prices have soared since about 2020. On, a website widely used to list houses for sale, the median home listing price in June 2021 was $684,450. This June, it’s at $849,000 — about a 24% increase. 

In that same time period, school leaders have gone from seeing 10 to 12 candidates for an opening “to just trying to find one,” Pingrey said. 

In McCall, where the sparkling Payette Lake and forested mountains attract tourists, city-dwellers seeking nature, and the wealthy, the town’s population of about 3,000 can more than triple during summers and holidays.

As vacancies go unfilled, teachers are taking on classes they’re not trained to teach. Niche positions, like a school psychologist or special education staff, are especially hard to fill.  

Due to home prices, “I can’t even try to recruit a kid out of college,” Pingrey said. 

The district has a “very veteran staff,” many of whom bought houses when interest rates and prices were tenable. But as they start to retire, the district will have to find solutions. 

McCall’s school leaders started researching, taking a look at resort towns all over the country, including in Colorado, California, and Wyoming.

They decided to take the lead in building teacher housing — as opposed to working with a third party. That way, the subsidized rent dollars can eventually pay off the project, and then potentially be a source of income for the district. 

Anyone who works for the district will be eligible for the housing, which is expected to be completed this winter, but more specific details about the housing application process are yet to be determined by the school board, Pingrey said. 

As far as next steps after the bond failure, Pingrey is unsure, but hopes the first set of apartments will help voters see that staff housing is a “viable, healthy project that’s good for the community.” 

Blaine County’s first subsidized staff homes are expected to open this summer

Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District’s superintendent, is no stranger to staff housing issues. As the former superintendent in McCall, he recalled a similar scenario there in the early 2000s. The district rented houses from community members, and then rented them to staff on a sliding scale.

“It worked really well, and then demand changed.” The housing market crashed and as home prices dropped, the assistance was no longer needed, he said. 

Foudy is taking that into account when he tackles staff housing issues in the Wood River Valley, by starting small and seeing if need continues. 

One of Idaho’s premier tourist destinations — known for drawing outdoor enthusiasts, the well-heeled, and celebrities — the community’s housing is more expensive than in McCall, and prices have similarly increased over recent years. 

On, the median home listing price in Blaine County was $1.15 million in June 2021. This month, it’s $1.4 million — about a 24% increase.

Jim Foudy

The district’s teachers are the highest paid in the state, with average pay at nearly $91,000. Still it’s not enough, and teachers have found themselves homeless at times. 

The district has tackled the issue in two ways: partnering with a nonprofit to provide rental assistance and to provide staff rental housing at subsidized rates. 

The rental assistance was a district-funded, two-year pilot program that started in 2021, and offered up to $500/month for qualifying school district employees who were renting homes in Blaine County. But the program has been underutilized because many teachers live in other counties, commuting from more affordable communities like Twin Falls, Fairfield, and even Ontario, Ore. 

Because of that, the program is ongoing three years later, and will remain in place “until the funds run out,” Foudy said. At that point, district leaders will consider whether to continue the program. 

A local nonprofit, Advocates for Real Community Housing (ARCH), helped the district facilitate the rental assistance program, and has taken the lead on its staff housing initiative. The district leased land to ARCH for the homes, and ARCH fundraised and is overseeing construction. 

Michelle Griffith, the executive director at ARCH, said the group began fundraising efforts in 2022, and raised $3.1 million in less than 12 months. 

This summer, the first five units will become available — including a townhome fourplex and a studio. Another three homes will become available next spring. 

“The district has been able to use those houses to recruit new members of staff, which is great,” Griffith said. 

Teachers and school staff are often part of what Griffith called “the missing middle” — those whose salaries are too high for many kinds of housing assistance, yet still too low to afford housing: “It’s a growing segment of the community.”

The housing crisis is so pronounced that “pretty much everyone is affected by it,” she said. Most residents are either housing insecure themselves, or know someone who is. “The upside to that is more people understand it and are trying to be helpful and find a solution.”

Foudy said two of the units that will be available this summer have been spoken for. Any district staff members are eligible to apply for the remaining and upcoming housing, but preference will be given to those who meet certain criteria, such as spouses who both work for the district, or those filling long-vacant positions. 

The housing is expected to be a short-term, two-year solution as staff seeks permanent housing, though Foudy said the district is looking into extending that timeframe if there’s need. 

The stopgap measures are coming just in time — Foudy anticipates about 100 district staff members retiring in the next five years. 

“Ultimately, our students benefit when we are able to recruit and retain the highest quality staff available,” he said. 

And that depends on housing.

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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