God’s country, renter’s hell

By on June 3, 2014
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Fifteen-year resident Jared Rogers has been living out of his vehicle since November. Photo: Christie Koriakin.

Desperation grows among local workforce looking for housing

Jackson Hole, Wyoming –  Living out of your car has its challenges, particularly when you get food poisoning in the dead of winter and have to hightail it to the nearest bathroom.

“Another night I woke up and it was so cold that I thought it was snowing inside my car, but it was just my breath crystallizing and freezing on me,” said Jared Rogers, a 15-year resident with a good job who says his life looks pretty good, except for that part about being homeless since November.

Rogers is perhaps unique in his ability to withstand negative Teton temperatures with nothing but a heated blanket, but he is hardly alone in his struggle to find housing as a working-class professional in Teton County. One of the realities of living the Jackson Hole dream is the high cost of securing a heated place to lay one’s head. Buying a home is prohibitively expensive for most of the non-trustafarian working class. Long-term renting, and all the trials and tribulations that come with it, is the de facto option of choice for most.

None of this is new, but in the past year reports from those in the trenches of the rental market have been bleaker than recent memory.

The Housing pinch
Rental property availability follows the rhythm of the seasons with prime moving periods prior to the busy summer season and in the fall when the influx of seasonal workers and visitors subsides.

Veteran renter Amber Townsend knows the drill. She has moved seven times in the last four years and knows that finding a decent spot requires quick decisions and connections.

“Every time I have had to look for housing has been tricky, but it has gotten harder and harder,” Townsend said. “This time around was the hardest.”
She spent three months diligently scanning the classifieds, countless hours emailing and calling leads only to have the deal fall apart.
“It was a second job, and I still had to live in my car for a few days in between,” she said.

Townsend is crossing her fingers that a two-bedroom basement apartment on Crabtree comes through so she can move her belongings out of her car and under a roof.
“I just feel lucky to have gotten it,” she said hesitantly, as if at any moment the landlord could change his mind. “It’s an underground unit, but it does have some half windows, which is really nice.”

Puzzled for years
Christine Walker, executive director of Teton County Housing Authority, said the workforce housing puzzle has perplexed Teton County for more than 20 years.

“When I moved here in 1989 it was pretty tight. I camped out and slept in garages,” Walker said. “Housing the workforce is a constant challenge and this period of time is right up there with one of the most difficult there’s been.”

Melanie Rees, a housing consultant specializing in the Mountain West, said that while the magnitude of the problem ebbs and flows, the overall trend is that the housing shortage is a consistently worsening problem for lifestyle communities like Jackson Hole.

“It might have softened a little bit during the recession, but now that the economy is coming back, the problem is rebounding,” Rees said.
Overall, it’s a simple problem of supply and demand, with lower income residents getting priced out of the market as demand rises and prices increase. However, two dynamics in particular are exacerbating the issue.

“It’s the summer season, so there are always more jobs. Plus, I see a lot of construction jobs this summer that are drawing more people into the area,” Walker said.
Jackson Town Councilor Jim Stanford said the supply of affordable workforce rentals is low this season, in part, due to an increase in illegal short-term rentals.

Whereas homeowners once rented their places to long-term renters, Stanford said the internet has enabled average homeowners to turn their apartments or condos into a makeshift hotel, generating far more profit from night-to-night rentals. He said that doesn’t jive with the goals the community has set for itself.

“We’ve made a choice as a community that we don’t want to export our workforce,” Stanford said.

The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan lays out a goal of housing 65 percent of the workforce locally. The statistics from the 2014 Comprehensive Plan Annual Indicator Report point to a discrepancy between our community goals and reality.

“If 65 percent of the local workforce is living locally … it is a result of employees working multiple jobs in order to afford housing, not the provision of workforce housing opportunities. Workforce housing opportunities are not being provided at the same pace as jobs, ” the report states.

More precise numbers are not yet available for quantifying our current situation.

“Frankly, we don’t know how much of the workforce is housed locally right now. We are in an analytical process to try to get those numbers,” said County Commissioner Ben Ellis. “We do know that we have more to do to achieve our goals.”

Several studies are underway to give local officials more information about the housing picture in Jackson Hole. Shawn Hill, a planning consultant for Forward Frontier, is working with Rees Consulting on a housing needs survey for Teton County, WY, and four other counties that he says will shed more light on the demand side of the equation.

Results of the survey won’t be available until the end of August, but Hill said even without the numbers tallied, it’s easy to see that the market is lopsided when you look at the newspaper classifieds.

“There are 332 full time jobs available and only three available rental units,” Hill said.

A good job and a truck to call home
Rogers feels the effect of the lopsided classifieds in his own life.

“I don’t like to put too much emphasis on my title, but I feel like I’m doing alright financially and professionally. I just don’t have a place to live,” said Rogers, an executive chef at a popular local restaurant.

Last fall, when he was ousted from his basement room rental, Rogers and his dog, Ninja, searched for rentals. He knows that in this market he is being picky by setting his budget between $700 and $1,000 a month for a reasonably quiet place, preferably by himself.

“I’m 36 and I just don’t want to live with five other roommates at this point,” he said. “Plus, 90 percent of the places I looked at did not allow pets. For me it just seemed like a better option to live out of my car.”

He bought a topper, and built a “living” area complete with storage compartments and just enough space for him and his dog to sleep.

“Dating isn’t really an option,” he said, showing how he sleeps diagonally across the truck bed so that his feet fit. Dating, however, is a secondary concern compared to finding a warm place to change clothes and a way to fill his free time.

“I work a lot, so when I didn’t know what to do with myself, I just went to work or went to the gym,” Rogers said. “But sometimes I just wanted to relax.”

Living out of a truck bed, especially through the winter, requires constant planning.

“I had to move around a lot to various spots and find power to plug in my space heater,” Rogers said. “I planned my days so I could shower at my gym and brush my teeth before bed.”

Summer, with its more moderate temperatures, should be easier to manage, but the thought of next winter weighs heavy on his mind.
“I don’t know if I will do another winter like that,” Rogers said. “After 15 years, it might be the reason I move from Jackson.”

Consequences of tight rental market
“There’s a variety of ways that a shortage of housing negatively impacts a community like Jackson,” Rees said, drawing from her years of experience with housing shortages in other “lifestyle communities” such as Vail, Aspen and Telluride.

The less-entrenched workforce population often decides to pick up and move away to other lifestyle communities when things get too expensive, which leaves local employers with fewer options for workers.

“That can lead to a lower level of service at local establishments. Service is pretty important for a resort town and that can hurt the economy,” Rees said.

When the forces of supply and demand raise rent to exorbitant prices, people often spend an unwise percentage of their income on housing. According to common financial wisdom, individuals should spend no more than 40 percent of their monthly income on housing. Rental prices in Jackson Hole are reaching levels exceeding that percentage.

“That means that these people have less income for critical things like healthcare and bills,” Rees said. “Plus, their expendable income to contribute to the local community is lower.”

Additionally, when prices are too high people save money by cramming too many tenants into a home, which can cause disruptions to neighborhoods. Campsites, both legal and illegal, also fill to capacity and beyond.

“When the rental market gets tight, it puts a lot of pressure on the national forests,” said Linda Merigliano, Bridger-Teton National Forest recreation program manager for the Jackson Hole area.

Merigliano said Forest Service employees spend a significant amount of time policing campsites to ensure that folks aren’t overstaying their limits. Long-term campers often don’t dispose of their waste properly, which pollute forest areas and attract bears.

When camping isn’t an option and housing is too expensive, an increasingly common option for folks feeling the housing pinch is moving to surrounding towns like Victor, Driggs and Alpine.

“It’s more expensive to build and maintain highways than it is to build housing,” Rees said. “Not to mention, when the workforce moves away, you lose a valuable part of a town’s character.”

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After 20 years in the valley, Susan Kerley and her family may leave Teton County. Photo: Mary Grossman.

Workforce exodus
“They talk about keeping the workforce in Jackson, but I really don’t see it happening,” said 20-year resident Susan Kerley.

Kerley may be joining the growing number of Teton County workers moving to nearby areas. Since 1992, she has managed to stay rooted in Teton County, working as a certified nurse’s assistant and raising a family.

“I think we got here like five years after things were somewhat affordable,” she said. “It was always hard to find a place. You had to be lucky. We’ve lived in some less than desirable places. But this time, we just can’t find anything.”

Kerley’s landlady recently passed away, leaving her heirs to make the difficult decision to bulldoze the old home in order to either sell the land or redevelop.
“I don’t blame them,” she said. “All these older homes are scrapers. I’m seeing lots of older more affordable places get turned into gigantic homes that I could never afford.”

Kerley, her husband, and 17-year-old daughter are considering joining many other local workers who already have moved to Alpine, but work in Jackson.
“I’m still holding out hope that we can find something, but if not I would be looking at two hours of commute time every day. I’m not looking forward to that drive,” she said.

Hope for housing
In the time it takes to develop more affordable housing options, many long-term county workers like Kerley, Rogers, and Townsend may already be gone.

For those that can hang in there, Rees thinks Jackson Hole has a lot of potential to mitigate the housing problem.

“Compared to other resort communities I’ve worked with, like Aspen and Vail, you have more room for redevelopment, annexation and affordable housing. It’s more a matter of political will, but it seems like the foresight is there, unlike in some other resort towns that didn’t address their housing issues,” Rees said.

If the Comprehensive Plan goals are any indicator of political will, then the sentiment to provide housing for the majority of the Jackson workforce is there.

Housing 65 percent of the workforce will not be a simple task, said County Commissioner Ellis. “But it doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy goal. And just because we don’t reach 65 right away, does not mean we are failing. It means we are still striving.”

“I do think the goal is achievable,” he said. “It will be a challenge to maintain and will require a constantly changing set of policies … sticks and carrots that can balance the forces of the private market.”

Teton County Housing Authority officials say they are working on new solutions from a variety of different angles, a strategy that Rees advocates.

“There’s no one solution. It has to be a variety of solutions and options for different income levels, so as long as a community is employing a variety of options, if they are taking action, it’s probably the right action,” Rees said.

Currently, housing developments are underway or slated for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Teton County School District employees. The next affordable housing project will be The Grove, a mixed-use project near Teton County Library with 20 rental units and 48 ownership properties that broke ground Tuesday. However, the first occupants won’t move in until September 2015.

“This is not something that you can fix overnight,” Walker said. “But every piece makes a difference.”

So for now, just as it has been for decades, “You’ve gotta pay to live in God’s country,” said Chuck Fideroff, director of Jackson’s homeless shelter.


About Christie Koriakin

38 Comments

  1. Book 'em

    June 3, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Lets hope the city cracks down on these losers before anyone else gets the bright idea to sleep in their car!

    • Mad Max

      June 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      It is no ones business if someone choose to live in their car. Are you so much better than him that he deserves to be titled a loser? Thinking like that makes you the loser.

  2. WyoBoy

    June 4, 2014 at 7:16 am

    The oil industry sets up man camps. The area around Pinedale used to look like a favela. I’m thinking that filling up the fairgrounds or the new Bus Barn with workers is a good idea.

    Subsidized housing is a bad idea unless the employer is providing it. Keep the government out.

    • Sam B

      June 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Meanwhile on FOX News…

  3. Sunny Side

    June 4, 2014 at 9:39 am

    This is why us Idaho residents need to invest in our own communities so, one day, hopefully, we can actually work over where we live. Jackson does not want us scrabble living in a house next to them, but they are happy to have us wash their floors, make their meals and keep their economy going. That will NEVER change. Meanwhile, there is a massive line of cars hauling us servants over a huge mountain pass every day. We have no other choice, in terms of the job market, but that’s why we shop and eat local here in Idaho. Not a dollar is spent over there, if we can help it. If we’re going to give our sweat and tears to Jackson, in the form of work because our hands are tied right now, we’re at least not going to buy gas, groceries and eat out there. The key to this never-ending battle is to invest in the outlying areas and, in turn, the job markets will improve. And, hell, maybe one day we can actually work where we live!

    • Mad Max

      June 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Aren’t you special. Live in Idaho, work and make a living in Jackson, and are too shallow to spend a penny back into the community that supports your sorry butt.

      BTW, how does it feel to pay income tax to Idaho for money you earn in Wyoming?

      • Sam B

        June 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm

        Well by your line of reasoning, all the billionaires who buy houses here and earn their money elsewhere shouldn’t be spending any of it here if they can help it either. Aren’t you ‘special’…

        Jackson can’t house people to work here, and they can’t be bothered to allow enough development to keep any middle class housing in play, so why in God’s name should they expect the commuting workforce to patronize this town. It only makes sense that they’d be loyal to the community they actually LIVE in, eh smarty pants?

  4. grace

    June 4, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Perhaps if the Town got off its duff and focused its sites on the building of apartments instead of attainable housing, this problem might be somewhat alleviated. Most cannot afford those so called attainable or affordable homes anyway. Imagine how many apartment units would fit on those home sites.

    • Sam B

      June 6, 2014 at 6:39 am

      Wyoming has more cows than people. We’ve got plenty of land for houses. People move here for the love of the outdoor activities. Lots of gear goes hand in hand with that, along with a longing for yards and decks ad BBQ’s. Apartments belong in New York, not Wyoming.

  5. Sukkapants

    June 4, 2014 at 10:46 am

    You should see my conversion van. I just park it on S Cache after I’ve closed down the rancher bar.

  6. Compassionate

    June 4, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Unfortunately, I remember when I moved here 14 years ago, the housing market was tight and hasn’t made really any improvement, except possibly during the recession.

    I feel for the young lady that has moved 7 times in four years. My personal record was 8 times in 2 years. Since I am lucky enough to have retained long term housing which I can afford, I would reach out and offer hope that it does get better. How long that takes, I don’t have an answer for.

    I just keep the faith that my friend, Jarod, and others that I have known for years, which are also looking for housing, will find a spot that will allow them to continue living here. It IS a tough go and it would be a shame to see our community lose such talented people that are the soul of Jackson.

  7. WyEquality

    June 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I see this article generated some typical comments from shallow conservative hicks.

    This is a clear example of how the free market is a failure. These aren’t losers. They are gainfully employed people that make it clear that both the wealthy Jackson Hole “resort community” and the workforce that these “job creators” need to live their elite lifestyles would be better served with some long overdue government intervention on this issue.

    The free market is always a failure, only government can solve serious problems well.

    • Justin

      June 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      You have got to be kidding. Your regurgitated liberal arguments are just as meaningless as those of the “conservative hicks” you criticize.

      The longer those 332 full-time job appointments sit vacant the better. When employers have to develop incentives, including higher wages, to solicit applicants, the workforce benefits. Nobody wants to work on oil rigs, think they pay minimum wage?

      Keep accepting bandaid fixes like employer-provided and tax payer subsidized housing and that population will never have a permanent solution to their lack of housing options. When you force a new employer in town to build employee housing, that cost is reflected on both the future consumers and the employee’s wages. Its indentured servitude. That housing lasts as long as that employees tenure at the job. You want the antithesis of free market? Imagine employer-based corporate housing units on top of every store in Jackson. Enjoy your government interventions.

      • Sam B

        June 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm

        If the ‘free market’ card is to be played, then it must be played entirely. That is, all the land in the valley that is privately owned should be free to be developed. Only then will we see enough housing of the kind needed for the people who live here.

        Otherwise – and all we will ever have is ‘otherwise’ – we need the kind of regulation that creates a decent place to live for all who work in the community. The problem with your ‘quasi free market’ is its turning all the older ‘worker class’ housing into vacation homes for the wealthy. If we were building new developments for the ‘vacation class’ and the middle class at a sufficient rate then places like east and central Jackson would still be reasonably priced havens for the people who live and work here.

        But the powers that be in this county have sat on their hands for so long, quashing every possible middle-class development for decades while allowing only high end development to proceed, and that has put pressure on the lowest ends of the community. The pressure starts with the wealthiest, and ‘trickles down’ until the hourly workers we rely on are left literally living on the streets.

        Making matters worse are lending standards which used to allow ‘credit score based borrowing’ to the many Jackson people at the lower end who earned ‘under the table’ tip money at levels high enough to buy a house, or allowed the many self-employed and business owners who write off all their expenses (much moreso than salaried employees) to borrow more than their tax returns would allow in traditional methods. Now we sit with very little inventory, and ‘free market greed’ has set in, with seller’s agents hyping the market and anyone who can buy in to spend exorbitant amounts of money – pre-recession money – in an unnaturally small amount of time.

        The current housing crisis in Jackson is an anomaly in terms of the rampant increases in values/rents compared to the national rate, because we have a very small town with lot of home owners stuck with their current loans, who are no longer ‘mobile’ due to borrowing standards, in conjunction with a county which will not allow any development of the types of ‘middle class’ neighborhoods we so desperately need. If there were a few hundred homes being built on local ranch land right now, the poor would have the random run-down places to rent around central/east Jackson, the vacationers would have new properties in HOA-controlled subdivisions to purchase, and the sub $1MM market would be relieved of the current pressure.

        Instead, we have a highly regulated, overpriced real estate market, a broken business sector, a torn community, much more ‘local’ traffic on the roads around Jackson than necessary (canyon/pass commuters), and lots of open pasture land with no houses, because the people in charge have sat on their hands for DECADES, serving no one but the people who want to see rapidly escalating real estate prices (realtors and land owners).

        When you consider that most of the population doesn’t own land, it amazes me that the people in control haven’t been given the boot.

        • WyEquality

          June 5, 2014 at 8:53 am

          Your attempt at a solution of having more land for the free market to develop is a bit pollyanna. Allowing the free market to develop land will not result in a surge of affordable middle class housing. The free market by definition will pursue the most money per square foot. That is more of those billionaire trophy homes you decry. Not affordable housing.

          Do you have an example of a developer who wants to invest in affordable middle class housing in Teton County but is frozen out due to regulation? Are these developers that you see as just waiting to relieve the sub $1M market regularly lobbying to be able to build affordable housing?

          I bet there are none. The developers aren’t being forced by regulation to build million dollar trophy homes. The free market is what is driving that. And let’s not forget the tools of the free market include lobbying and regulation.

          The solution is elections. If the competition is between the market influence of lower wage service workers and billionaire trophy homes, the billionaires win every time. Democracy, ie the government, is the only hope for relief.

          That said, most everything else you write I think is spot on. I think you know organization and democracy (aka unions of some flavor) are the tools the workers need to make progress.

          • Sam B

            June 5, 2014 at 10:06 am

            Actually there are plenty of people who would have subdivided and developed their parcels on the outskirts of town if planners had allowed it. There was plenty of that going on until planners put an artificial stop to it through regulation back in the late eighties.

            The current market suggests that the only segment currently underserved is the sub $1MM market, which has gone up in value nearly 100% in the past few years. That’s pure insanity (nothing like it anywhere on planet earth in the same timeline), and qualifies as highly overinflated – a new ‘bubble’. There is nothing supporting the prices, except a truly extreme lack of inventory.

            The reasons are several-fold, but the bottom line is that because planners banned the free market development of middle class housing in the late eighties (by banning medium-density development and lot-splitting outside of town limits), there has been a completely regulated, artificial lack of development in that segment for decades.

            The only way to unwind that massive screw-up is to allow, and indeed mandate, that development of more medium-density housing and the wholesale allowance of lot splitting and development on the outskirts of town.

            Planners cite an ‘inability to handle population growth’ or a lack of desire, as though that is going to ‘ruin our community’. That’s a farce. We barely have a community. Instead, we have people who live in Alpine and Victor (etc) who all universally scorn Jackson. People who work here, but cannot afford to live here, who take their pay and spend it anywhere but here, because planners have catered to the billionaires instead of to cultivating this community.

            We literally have MILLIONS of tourists funneling through Jackson every year, and thousands of commuters on the Pass and in the Canyon every day. Imagine, instead, that we created ample building opportunities so that those people could afford to live here instead? The community would benefit immediately, as more dollars would stay in Jackson. Would an extra thousand or so people living in Jackson even be noticed against the backdrop of millions of tourists? No! But their money would, as it would be spent here. Every. Single. Day.

            The bottom line is this: We lack middle income housing because planners artificially stopped developing it at a time when the market wanted it. Now, the ONLY way to resolve that mistake is mandate more of it. Sure, the under $1MM market will go back down, and it will hurt the hundred or so people who bought into that artificial, overinflated market. But it will help Jackson in the long run immensely.

            The policy to date has been ‘cows and billionaires before workers’. And by workers, I mean nurses, lawyers, police, and the whole slew of middle class people who are aging out of the workforce, and who will need to be replaced. The only way to attract NEW people to fill those jobs is to undo the mistakes of the past decades, which was the wholesale stop that was put on outlying development. It needs to be regulated back into existence, just as it was ‘regulated out’.

            There is no free market in Jackson. The present housing problem was created by short-sighted regulation, and the solution lies in regulation as well.

    • Mad Max

      June 5, 2014 at 3:12 pm

      Mr. WyEquality, there is no such thing as a Free Market if it is regulated.
      Take a look at not only this small western town, but also the entire country, and all the problems are a result of government being involved.

      “Be thankful you are not getting all the government you are paying for” Will Rogers

  8. Sam B

    June 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    There are a variety of problems here, and some pretty stupid observations in the comments.

    1. “Free market”? 97% of the land in Teton County is regulated and protected from development. That’s the ANTITHESIS of “free market”.

    2. Development of the remaining land is endlessly stymied by local politicians and planners who evidently love the sound of ever-rising retirement funds – i.e. their property values.

    3. The only ‘allowable’ new mass development is for more billionaire trophy homes. We need more ‘Rafter J’ type development so housing prices of middle class homes return to a reasonable level. There’s plenty of land available. But greedy people have stopped that from happening. (it’s not really about the animals, they have millions of acres to roam).

    Solutions?

    1. RENT CONTROL, like NYC. Land use is tightly regulated, so too should rents be regulated. Rental rates are up as much as ONE HUNDRED PERCENT in the last three years. That’s INSANE.

    2. Non-resident, non-owner-occupied property tax hikes. Own a home but only visit it a week or two a year? Pay quadruple the amount of property tax. Your ‘ownership’ is our community’s hardship. We have no place for the members of our community to live. If you’re not going to be a part of it, spending your money here daily, then we really won’t miss you if you sell. But if you rent out your property long term, you get taxed at the ‘resident’ rate. This incentivizes participating in the rental pool, which helps keep rents lower.

    3. Allow development of ‘middle class’ subdivisions. Not crappy little apartments and thin-walled townhouses with no room for outdoor gear (the middle and lower class lives here because they too love to play outdoors, and they need places to store gear, boats, etc – i.e. they need GARAGES WITH STORAGE as part of the ‘poor people housing’ design).

    The town leadership has, to date, done NOTHING to help the situation, but instead continues to cash in on INSANE rent increases and ever-rising property values. No where in the country have rents and property values ballooned back in the past couple years like it has in Jackson.

    I’ve heard some of our ‘high end’ realtors saying things to the effect that “if they’re too poor to afford Jackson, then go down the Canyon or over the Pass with the rest of the poor people, that’s where they belong anyway”. Literally, that is the sentiment of some, if not all, of the ‘movers and shakers’ in this town. What a great “community” we live in…

    With the prevention of ‘middle class’ development for the past thirty years, Jackson is no longer “the last of the old west”. It’s Martha’s Vineyard. A place where you are either privileged elite, or lucky enough to work for them if you don’t mind living out of your car.

    It’s time to vote some new people into office. It’s time to ‘approve’ development of some new neighborhoods so we can cut down on traffic over the pass and up the canyon. So our small businesses can employ people and expand. So we can attract new businesses.

    The existing group has completely mishandled their responsibilities to the community. It’s time for some dramatic change in policy and leadership. That much is self-evident.

    • Mad Max

      June 5, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Are you for real Sam B?
      1 – Now you want Jackson to be like NYC? Forced rent control?
      2 – Raise taxes if you do not live here, because you are fortunate enough to do well financially and have a vacation home in Jackson. Are you insane. The last thing to ever do is raise taxes, on anyone. We are all equal under the laws.

      • Sam B

        June 6, 2014 at 6:17 am

        Absolutely. It’s over-regulation that created this problem by not allowing further middle class housing developments for DECADES, and now that type of development, along with disincentive to own vacation property in town is what will make Jackson an affordable place to live for the small business owners and professionals in our community again. We need to disincentivize vacation home ownership and short term rentals in areas not adjacent to the resorts and golf courses. Any area not included in ‘vacation rental zoning’ should be subject to increased property taxes for non-resident owners. Period.

        Don’t live here? Just want a generally vacant vacation house? Don’t want to live in ‘vacation zoned’ areas? Can’t afford the proposed ‘vacation home’ taxes? Make your “free market choice” and buy elsewhere. No one said life is fair, right? Sorry you can’t have your vacation home anywhere you want it, at whatever price you want it… Isn’t it better to use that argument on outsiders rather than community members?

        There are future generations to consider, and without development and incentives, this town is only going to continue becoming more broken over time. Where will young architects, lawyers, nurses, emergency services, etc choose to raise their families? Not here… Can’t afford it, and the low end, zero-lot-line houses and small apartments ‘allowed’ to them aren’t where young families want to raise children. We have plenty of land, plenty of room for nice family developments, but it’s been verboten for far too long. Can’t afford Teton Science School? Hope you like the developing landscape in our public schools…

        And I blame a lot of realtors too. 6% of the population here is realtors. That’s insane. And the things I’ve heard come from their mouths, and the general spirit and greed with which they’ve approached pricing goes beyond the pale, with reported collusion amongst certain people to ‘see how high we can push prices’. Realtor-friends of mine have reported those exact conversations. It’s a very tiny marketplace, with very little inventory, so it can be done, it HAS been done, and we are living with the results of that greed. Right now realtors have lots of clients who ‘can’t find anything they *want* to buy at the prices we’re seeing’, and those people are trying to rent as well. They’re not buying because the available properties are overpriced garbage. Poorly built houses in lackluster locations in need of complete remodels are now priced at $500/square foot. That’s truly ‘pushing-the-envelope’ grade insanity.

        “But that’s the market, it’s is super tight” they say. Sure it is. So is credit. Is temporarily scant inventory really ample justification for stratospheric pricing increases – increases that outpace every other place in the nation by double, if not tenfold…??? People are balking. It wouldn’t take much additional building – a few hundred homes? – and prices would be reasonable in the middle class, $400k to sub $1MM sector.

        What we don’t need is the lower-end vacation buyers snapping up middle class housing and using it two weeks a year while illegally short-term renting it to tourists. That doesn’t help the economy or the community in ANY way.

        Too poor for a multimillion dollar vacation home? Don’t like the proposed tax structure on houses in town? Go elsewhere. That’s the whole idea. The people who live and work here are truly more important, and they should be our town and county planners’ top priority, now more than ever. They don’t need want crappy ‘affordable/attainable’ housing developments, etc – they just need more housing available to keep prices in check, and we need to disincentivize middle class ‘vacation homes’ in non-vacation, non-short-term rental sectors.

        We should create ‘zones’ where the ‘vacation home’ tax doesn’t apply, like around Snow King and Teton Village and out at Golf and Tennis. Develop high density housing in those places for vacationers. Make THEM live in the condos, apartments and zero-lot-line houses. They’ve only here part time anyway.

        Leave the decent lots and developments for people actually making a life here, raising families here, and contributing to our community here.

        Barring that… Rent control. Absolutely. Rent has gone up over 100% in three years. That’s beyond insane, and it is a blatant call for rent control. Rents need to come down. Crappy places renting shared bedrooms at $1,250 per room? Insanity. Prices have spiraled completely out of control. That’s why they instituted rent control in NYC. A good friend of mine owns nine-figures worth of rent-controlled housing in NYC. She’s not starved for cash. You can own rentals and still make money… particularly if the tax structure favors owning long term rentals in areas outside the short-term rental zones. It’s not a problem.

        It’s better for the community at large to make these changes, and while the changes will seem harsh to the smallest and greediest in the pool, we’re living with an absolutely absurd reality that’s growing increasingly out of control each year, due to their unbridled greed of a few, and a lack of foresight by planners. The *community* should be our planners’ top priority. To date, all they’ve done is destroy it by banning middle class development, running the middle class out of town, and pandering to the ultra-rich and real estate opportunists.

        New policy, and new people in charge. That’s what’s needed. There is no ‘free market’ here whatsoever, so don’t even try to play that card. And there’s PLENTY of land sitting wide open to be developed. There isn’t a place in the world with more contrived scarcity than Jackson, Wyoming.

        • Mad Max

          June 6, 2014 at 8:48 am

          It’s over-regulation that created this problem and your solution is more regulation? Totally wrong direction to go. Who are you or the town/county government or NYC to tell me what I can charge for rent. If I have a home for rent for $10,000/month, no one has the right to tell me I can only rent it for $1500/month. Do you want this same government entity to tell you how much money you can earn?

          Selective selling of homes, selective taxation. This type of thinking is making my head want to explode. You do realize that Jackson and Wyoming are part of the United States of America don’t you?

          You spread the word, that if the outsider don’t like your new rules/regulations they can pound sand and go elsewhere. Well if you can’t pay the rents or buy a home go elsewhere. Same thing Sam.

          If the only people left are the rich and no one to do the work, what will happen? Simple, things would go back to the way they were many years ago and life in Jackson would come full circle.
          So you have a choice, deal with it or leave. No rules or regulations are forcing you to leave. Same thing you want the outsider to be forced by regulations to do.

          • Sam B

            June 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm

            You don’t build false scarcity through regulation and then expect the false scarcity problem to “solve itself”. It will *never* happen. The community suffers from contrived scarcity. The only way to unwind that mistake is to ‘plan’ a new reality, one where the community actually works, and housing is affordable to people who serve this community, within reason. I don’t expect houses for $200k, but $400k? $500k? Yes. Absolutely.

            Your ‘solution’ is apparently to tell all the people who serve our community to pound sand, because money is the only thing that rules the day. To hell with the community and the people who serve it, because billionaires and multimillionaires are more important. That’s what’s tearing Jackson apart on the community level. It’s why this town and its civic leaders and planners are so widely resented by all the people who suffer to live here. The people in charge put themselves and the one percent above the actual fabric of the community. It’s as if none of them understands what’s important in life, or what makes a ‘community’ work.

            The community should always come first. You, apparently, would have it otherwise. Are you on the planning commission? I bet you are…

  9. Anonymous

    June 4, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    We should rally together and put pressure on our elected officials to put a stop to illegal vacation rentals. A town planner told me that they know this is a problem but have been told to turn a blind eye.

    • Sam B

      June 4, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      This.

    • Mad Max

      June 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      May we should put pressure on our elected officials to put a stop to illegal aliens also. How many jobs and housing opportunities are being affected by this?

      • Sam B

        June 6, 2014 at 5:17 am

        Not many. They cram 4x as many people into the worst apartments that no one wants to live in anyway, and do jobs that no one wants.

        The funny thing is the snobs who created the ‘no place for white people’ environment then bitch and moan that our schools are now teaching spanish. Sorry, but if you didn’t want this to happen, you shouldn’t have banned all middle class development for DECADES. Idiots…

        • Mad Max

          June 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

          Not many. They cram 4x as many people into the worst apartments that no one wants to live in anyway, and do jobs that no one wants..

          And those are still units made unavailable to legal people, and if someone does not want to clean toilets, no one is forcing them to stay. Do the work or go home. The work is there for them, take it or leave it. Free choice. You want more rules and more regulations, what about the rules, regulations and laws already on the books across this country which prevent illegals being here to begin with. You just can’t pick and choose which ones are good for you. Middle class development was not banned. Perhaps priced on the high side, but not banned.

          The funny thing is the snobs who created the ‘no place for white people’ environment then bitch and moan that our schools are now teaching spanish.

          You blame it on the snobs, and not government for protecting our borders. or our Sherriff for not having them deported. The rules are there and not adhered to, the solution is not more rules.

          Some of what you say is on track, and make sense, but other things you say, well , just leave my head spinning.

          • Sam B

            June 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm

            You should pick up the paper sometime and check out the pages upon pages of ‘help wanted’ ads, and only a few vastly overpriced rentals. There’s no freaking housing.

            Middle class development was banned. Every attempt at it was rejected for the last two decades. The only large developments to be approved since Melody (on the higher end) have been billionaire playgrounds like 3 Creek and Shooting Star. And there aren’t even houses on half of those lots yet.

            But developments like Teton Meadows and others which would have put many hundreds of homes up in the middle class range were rejected by planners. All the subdivision of smaller private parcels (i.e. 5 acre parcels, small 5-10 house developments) have all been BANNED as well. There would literally be hundreds, maybe even a thousand more ‘middle class’ grade homes out there right now if it hadn’t been prevented by planners.

            This is part of the problem, half the people, like you, have no idea what has happened here historically, and have no comprehension of how this problem has evolved to become so extreme. The ‘free market’ isn’t what we’ve had. Bad regulation that prevented development of needed housing is ALL we’ve had…

            Those bad policy choices have been playing out for DECADES now, and it’s time to unwind those very expensive mistakes.

  10. Anonymous

    June 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    To the jerk who called Jared a loser… Jared is an incredibly talented and creative chef. He is one of and possibly the best culinary talent in the valley. He works long hours and is devoted to his craft. I run into him climbing, not at the local watering holes. I have never heard him say an unkind word to anyone. Jared is a success story of someone from humble beginnings in a small community in the mountain west. Whoever you are, Jared deserves an apology and I hope you are at least half the community member that he is.

    • WalkTek

      June 6, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Yep. Losers call other people names. Jared simply puts his head down and works… As an executive chef in a well regarded restaurant.
      Great article Christie!

  11. Fresh Tracks

    June 5, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Does anyone remember Teton Meadows back in 2008? A private developer came in with a plan to build 400 workforce housing units on the Seherr-Thoss property in South Park. A middle class subdivision like Sam B referenced. What happened? A whole segment of Jackson residents — everyone from middle class homeowners who got into the market in the 1980s to Melody Ranch homeowners to people concerned with “quality of life” and traffic — rose up and said, “Not in my backyard!”

    Opportunity missed, business goes on as usual and six years later the housing problem’s even worse. Time and again, the wealthier haves have made it clear that they don’t want an affordable or attainable development near their property. Instead you get illegal VRBOs, developments like Pine Glades, in-town tear-downs that are rebuilt for $1 million plus and more mega-mansions.

    Were it not for Teton Valley, Idaho’s virtually nonexistant local economy, which forces their workforce to commute the pass, there would be hardly-any year-round Jackson Hole workers at all.

    As the money has seeped into the valley over the past 20 years, the “we’re in this together” attitude has slowly and steadily seeped out. You don’t build a community when no one young sticks around long enough to care.

    • Sam B

      June 6, 2014 at 6:35 am

      Yep. Same thing has been going on since the late 80’s and early 90’s.

      “Make the community commute from Idaho and Alpine so the rich don’t have to see them at night” has been the policy for decades. Never mind the daily economic spend Jackson loses, or the spite and scorn which has built up towards Jackson over the decades of fascist ‘only the wealthy’ development policies.

      Now we have a situation where there’s no decent places to raise a family for people who work here at all. How does that play out in another 10-20 years? There are still a lot of people living and working here who bought in before the stratospheric property values took hold, but they’ll all age out pretty soon. It’s been 30 years of this now…

      Growing economy? More tourists to support? Let’s double the prices on everything under $1MM and sell it to them, but never allow anything in the $500k range to be built here, ever, unless we can force the people to leave if they don’t work here (i.e. affordable housing projects).

      But the vacation homes that sit vacant all but two weeks a year? That’s fine. The fewer people vote, and the fewer poor workers live here, the easier it will be to keep this scam running… “The last of the old west” sign needs to be taken down and given to Victor.

      Jackson’s sign should read “Martha’s Vineyard of the West”.

  12. Alexa

    June 5, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Plain and simple.. the people in charge are not doing their civic duty. No one is stepping up to the plate. Where are our values?

    • Sam B

      June 6, 2014 at 6:24 am

      They’re pandering to the greedy and the wealthy, with a totally blind eye to their civic duty. They have not cultivated and protected the community, but have instead allowed it to be run into the ground.

      What’s amazing is the number of people who do not own land, and who reside in the ‘wish we could afford to own a house here’ population vastly outnumbers the greedy few for whom the long-standing policies are directed, but the same irresponsible planning has been allowed to continue.

      It’s reprehensible.

      If there’s any explaining it, it’s the same mentality that causes everyone to line up into a single-lane traffic jam when there’s construction, rather than forming two lines and ‘zippering’ together at the bottleneck. People are afraid of upsetting the apple cart, and afraid to be known as openly against the terrible policies that favor the greedy and the rich for fear of retribution.

      It’s easier to be gay in this town than speak out against the blatant economic bias in our leadership.

  13. Teton Rose

    June 6, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Great Camping Spots to Consider:
    The town square is shady and close to shopping opportunities if you can afford the prices otherwise consider a spot near Idaho Falls where you’ll be shopping otherwise. Some of our town leaders and local realtors have ample fenced in or bermed lawns that should accommodate more than a few workers. Considering how much we pay for medical care at Saint Johns, I bet the hospital wouldn’t mind if a few hundred of us camped out in their parking lot and their empty rooms. There is space under the bridge on 89………

  14. JH Native

    June 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    OK,
    the housing problem has been a problem for a long, long time. The situation is hampered by the Gov’t trying to fix the problem with affordable/attainable housing. The solution is to allow Supply and Demand rule as it should. When Gov’t subsidized housing is thrown into the market it IS the proverbial wrench thrown into the Machine that breaks gears and causes huge delays in the fixing of the problem.

    So what is the solution, specifically?

    1) Get rid of Gov’t subsidized housing.

    2)Let Supply and Demand operate unhindered. When the demand for housing is high, that would indicate that businesses are also in demand for workers. If the demand for housing is high, but the supply is low, the prices will rise. When the prices get too high, the demand for housing will decrease simply because workers cannot secure housing and go elsewhere where their needs can be met. And, that is OK. The businesses, still faced with the need for workers, may experience pain of having to meet their customer’s demands with fewer workers. This is not so bad either because if this is the case, then more than likely wages will increase, on their own, giving workers more buying power for home buying. If the business cannot meet their customer’s needs, the customer will go elsewhere as well, lessening the demand on the business. The business does have another option to attract workers and to satisfy their need for housing. Employee housing, as long as it is NOT Gov’t forced.

    3)Allow large land owners, if they choose, to subdivide. This will increase the supply and normalize the demand. It would work, if it were not for the Gov’t capitulating to the NIMBY’s in the name of open space, wildlife, blah, blah, blah.

    Those are three things that would normalize the housing problem. In reality, unfortunately, these ways will not even be considered because of the current laws and Gov’t. So what can be done? #2 is probably the closest to what might work in J-Hole. But there is a price. The price is the changing of what us native J-Holer’s knew as Jackson. It has already happened, the Old West is GONE so we should concentrate on developing to accommodate our chosen economy of Tourism and stop this nutty idea of Saving Historic Jackson, because it is gone! The wildlife have their multi-million acres of refuge in GTNP and YNP. J-Hole cannot be a wildlife sanctuary AND a thriving Tourist destination at the same time. Those two ideals are conflicting. We chose Tourism so that is what we should do.

    • Mad Max

      June 6, 2014 at 5:08 pm

      JH Native has it, basically, get Government out of the way. I like that.
      Some want more government, some want less, I want less.

    • Sam B

      June 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

      They should probably keep the Square a ‘two story’ venue – not allow taller buildings until you’re a block outside of it. In the interest of tourism. The rest should be freely developed.

      They should only ‘approve’ large developments on the outskirts with medium density housing (like Rafter J and Melody). This regulation is needed to make up for banning and rejecting that kind of development for decades. It’s *why* there’s no ‘naturally affordable’ housing outside of the special ‘projects’. There would be no need for the “Affordable/Attainable” projects at all if they hadn’t banned that type of housing for so long, when there was plenty of interest in doing so. (they turned down this type of development as recently as ’08, which would have been an ideal time to approve this).

      There still isn’t nearly as much interest in the super high end these days, and there’s plenty of unbuilt lots in that market, so there’s no reason to ‘approve’ more of those developments, and more of them will do nothing for our community when demand hasn’t used up what’s out there. Ergo there is nothing lost by favoring middle class, medium density developments that would already exist if they had been allowed to be created over the past twenty-five years. That’s the market segment that’s suffering. There are currently houses on the market in that range, and people are literally asking $500/sq ft for existing poorly built houses on town-size lots. That’s a clear indicator of a broken market.

      To believe that there is any ‘free market fix’ to this crisis is exceptionally naive. The problem was contrived by shortsighted regulatory mistakes, and the only way to unwind it is to use the same regulatory powers to ensure the right type of houses are built now.

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