THE BUZZ: The Faces of Blair

By on July 21, 2015

If residents of Blair Place Apartments are forced from the valley, just who do we stand to lose?

This marks the first piece in a weekly series spotlighting vital community members who may leave Jackson in response to the more than 40 percent rent increase at Blair Place Apartments.

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Jorge Moreno says he may have to uproot the life he planted in Jackson after Blair Place Apartments announced a sharp rent hike in the midst of a historic housing shortage. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – It’s Monday morning and a grey sky lingers over the maze of three-story buildings that house Blair Place Apartments’ 294 units. A cluster of ebullient kids and a few parents congregate around a school bus as a young girl, seemingly unaware of the dire situation now confronting her family, prances to the bus armed with a sparkly pink backpack.

When the housing crisis first dug its claws into the valley, Blair Place was an affordable option for many folks including families, teachers, nurses and police officers. Rents at the apartment complex remained affordable, allowing residents to plant roots, while single-home properties and condos around the valley skyrocketed. However, many Blair Place residents, like caseworker Jorge Moreno, now say that when their lease expires and the exorbitant increase is instated (the rent on Moreno’s two-bedroom apartment will rise from $1,250 to $1,800), they will surrender to the housing crisis and leave the valley for good.

Married with two young children, Moreno is a community advocate who, in addition to the casework he performs for Latino Resource Center, volunteers as a translator for various nonprofits and attorneys. He also is a board member of the Doug Coombs Foundation, which helps get low-income kids onto the slopes, and is a veritable civil servant to the Latino community. He prepares taxes and registers voters and has even knocked on doors to warn Latino residents when their homes were going to be demolished to make way for a Marriott hotel.

To know what Moreno, an 18-year resident, has endured here, to know what sparked his altruistic trajectory, makes it all the more difficult to imagine this valley fixture gone.

In 2012, Moreno was working as a diesel mechanic. For extra work in the off-season, he took a job working nights at the Jackson Whole Grocer. While riding his bike to work one summer eve, the Mexico City native was blindsided by a motorist. Plastered to the car’s windshield, Moreno struggled to lift himself from a bed of smashed glass. But the driver had other plans for him. The motorist hit the throttle and Moreno’s body flew to the ground, smacking the pavement.

“Then he drove right on top of me,” Moreno said. “The last thing I remember was hearing the sound of the tires against the asphalt.”

Moreno woke up in a hospital bed, badly battered and bruised. Among his injuries were a broken arm, six broken ribs and a broken sternum. Dragged under the vehicle for 12 feet, Moreno’s body was bloody and raw where patches of flesh had been ripped away.

Moreno, who did not have insurance at the time, pleaded with the nurse to release him from the hospital. After several days failing to pass the nurse’s “test,” which was to walk without immediately collapsing onto the ground, he was finally cleared to leave.  But Moreno was far from healed.

“I couldn’t get out of bed by myself for a month and a half after that,” Moreno said, explaining that the threat of mounting hospital bills, already at $60,000, urged his hasty departure and left him with no other choice.

Unable to work, Moreno and his family moved in with his parents, who were already grappling with their own financial woes. Although it went against everything he knew, he decided it was time to seek help. “When I was a kid, my parents had always taught me that if you need something you have to do it yourself,” he explained.

The Community Resource Center cut Moreno a check for $800. “It wasn’t a lot,” Moreno said, “but it was money I didn’t have at the time. It felt like they gave me a million dollars.”

Meanwhile, as police and attorneys failed to bring the responsible motorist to justice, Moreno became increasingly disillusioned and withdrawn. With too much time on his hands, he decided to volunteer as a translator for the Community Resource Center and Latino Resource Center. “They helped me when I was in need so I wanted to give something back,” he said.

And that’s when everything shifted for Moreno. “Helping others became the best therapy I could have from my accident,” he explained. “It became a part of me and I could not stop.”

Sonia Capece is the executive director of the Latino Resource Center. She recognized Moreno’s passion to help people and offered him a case manager position. “After all that he personally went through, he still believes that positive change is possible,” she said. “Jorge is able to connect with individuals and help them evaluate options and pursue dreams. He is a strong believer in the value of getting involved and being an active member of the community.”

Moreno, a self-taught English speaker, also began volunteering as a translator for several attorneys and the Teton County Access to Justice Center.

“Jorge is invaluable to us,” said Carina Ostberg, executive director of Teton County Access to Justice Center. “He not only provides free translation for us—I only have one other person who is willing to translate for free—but he is also willing to do it on really short notice and under circumstances less than convenient to him and his family. I have met with him and clients at 8 at night, and he has translated via phone when he has been too ill to leave his bed. His dedication is amazing.”

Moreno estimates he has volunteered about 300 hours of his time to translate for low-income clients of attorneys alone. And while he continues to advocate for folks who do not have a voice in the valley, he is pragmatic about the lack of representation that working class people face here.

“Money has the loudest voice in Jackson,” he said. “They might not be able to hear us, but one day, they will see it.” Moreno worries that rising rents and a lack of housing will result in a radically altered community tapestry. “We’re going to have a place where people come here and spend money and then they leave and the lights are turned down,” he said.

In the case of Blair Place Apartments, Moreno points a finger of blame in a different direction. “I think the Town of Jackson needs to regulate how much Blair [and other landlords] can raise the rent,” he said. “This is the last place people turned to for relief from the housing crisis. When my family and I got here, we were so grateful to find a place we could call home. Now we feel like we have lost control again.”

Email Robyn Vincent at [email protected]

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

25 Comments

  1. Homes

    July 22, 2015 at 6:50 am

    You cover the rent increases at Blair as if that’s a problem. Greg Prugh’s new apartments at the old trailer lot will also rent for $1800 but they will have less square footage than the Blair if I remember correctly.

    It’s a free market. How is it that SO MANY PEOPLE can’t enjoy a life in the valley while living in Victor & Alpine?

    The problem is low wages and employers who refuse to pass the true cost of goods and services onto the consumer.

    The problem is a government that has made affordable housing impossible to build.

    The problem is employees who can’t handle, or don’t plan for, the ups and downs of life.

    The problem is everyone wants a handout. A free ride. The golden ticket.

    Life isn’t fair. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you want a good life, you must get lucky, get a good education, get a good job, work hard, suffer to get there, and pick a place to live that you can afford.

    Or marry rich.

  2. Homes

    July 22, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Oh, yeah, Jorge Moreno.

    I blocked traffic with my car as you lay motionless in the street on that morning. If you can survive that, you can survive this.

  3. All about that bass

    July 22, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Rents at 1800 too much for Jackson?

    Try renting a 2 bedroom in any oil-patch boom town for 1800.

    Perhaps the Town of Jackson should set a minimum wage for employers just like other towns across America have done.

    If the employers won’t pay their employees appropriate pay, then the town should tax their customers and pass on the taxes to employees. A 20% sales tax on non-locals sounds nice. Give rebates to locals who pay the sales tax.

  4. Patty

    July 23, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Using an employee of the Illegal-Immigrant Resource Center is interesting. Housing is often unavailable for Americans because so many undocumented immigrants and their big families occupy it. As long as visa workers & immigrants keep wages depressed, housing becomes even more unaffordable. Dorm rooms, and 5 people packed into a motel room, become the new standard for housing so we can service the wealthy living in their second or third home. Subsidizing tourists staying in posh accommodations, or cheap ones, isn’t any better. Jackson Hole doesn’t need or benefit from the low-wage employer or the subsidized consumer.

    It’s not only that employees can’t afford housing, they can’t afford medical care, college, transportation, utilities, or saving for retirement. The business model in resort towns needs to change. Government regulations & ideas needs to change.

    The idea that the people who own homes in the Hole should be catered to by underpaid workers from elsewhere and that none shall tarnish the homeowner’s view shed is the mindset of the plantation owner just before the civil war. “I got my way of doing things, don’t you mess with it.” The South did just fine without slavery. The world didn’t stop spinning. Wildlife will be OK with a 5-story apartment building. The views will always be great – ‘millions of acres of federal land’ great. The old Puzzleface berm didn’t kill any wildlife or destroy the Hole’s character. It was destroyed when we became a mass market trinket trap for tourist passing through town.

  5. planetjh

    July 23, 2015 at 10:45 am

    It’s interesting how many positive comments people have posted on Facebook – where it is impossible to hide behind a moniker like “Homes,” – while the hateful comments all arrive via anonymous people on this website.

  6. Connie

    July 23, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    I was just about to say the same thing. The reason everyone shouldn’t have to live in Idaho or Sublette County is simple: it’s a long, dangerous drive and our children deserve to go to school here if we work our asses off in Teton County! Some people would be singing a much different tune if only they weren’t given that magic “handout” somewhere along the way in their own lives..

  7. Connie

    July 23, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Your comments truly disgust me. Sounds like you’re begging for karma’s attention..

  8. murph

    July 23, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    @ planetjh the negative comments are still free speech.opposing views are important to the overall discussion,you can stay in your facebook bubble.or would you rather “out” the offender like the last great article from this author.as far as the blair apts. owner i think 45% is obscene,i think he’s hoping to up class the joint with more professionals with no kids and less cars,a natural reaction to the market i would guess.and sacrifices we all have to make them to live here,the biggest ones are leaving family behind,choosing not to have kids,new cars,or credits cards.living beyond your means. forget about starting a family here.

  9. Connie

    July 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Wow. I guess I didn’t realize that by bringing our only child here when we moved to Jackson, my husband and I would be living outside our means. And taking away the “classiness.”

  10. ec

    July 23, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you Jorge for speaking out on this important issue. Hard to read the comments and realize how people can be…..

  11. 22

    July 23, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Wow I never new Jorge’s story. I guess that the newspaper doesn’t like to inform the citizens of assault when the perpetrator is a motorist. That is easily the most horrific story I have ever heard of random annonymous violence here in Jackson. Kinda like that chick who was murdered in front of bank of the west last year. The newspapers hid the identity of the perpetrator and swept the whole thing under the rug as an ‘accident’. There must be some sort of protocal that castrates reporters in these types of situations, but to me, you are grotesque accomplices in the crimes. The terrifying thing is that this ‘guy’ is still out there driving around waiting for his next victim. Sounds like the police don’t really give a poo……Jorge is a cool dude, I have known him for awhile. It would really suck if this forces him to leave. I am always amazed at how the immigrants who work low paying jobs manage to survive in this type of housing climate. It seems like they must feel like slaves having to work round the clock to make enough to pay rent. This town is completely hypocritical with all their leed building bullshit, while forcing the workforce to drive in from out of town. How many animals have been killed by auto commuters? How many Jorges have been injured or killed by commuters? How much pollution has been created by auto commuters?

  12. gags

    July 24, 2015 at 12:41 am

    When I came to the hole in ’93 housing was going for 150k with in a 4 year period that house was accessed for $450k. You have to remember that only 3% of the land in the hole is privately owned. Rent back then was btw $150-400/month. The main problem is that there is a pronounced off season, nearly 8 weeks a year no matter what business you are in. The service industry takes the biggest hit as they employ the most folks in the hole. A construction person makes btw $15-45+/hour. The chef might make $45-60k a year but that it rated against the 8 weeks off. which is actually $50k before taxes. So if the chef is making $50k, his rent is $21.5k and his taxes are $15k plus $10.8K for utilities and food, that leaves you with $2700 bucks to pay for your ski pass, you car payment, and hopefully no one gets sick. The town of Jh should have done something about this years ago. I could not eat the tetons so i had to leave. if you were lucky to purchase your house in 2001-2005 and paid $450k you best be making 80-100k a year to afford that $3800/month mort payment…to live in a 1200sf house. With that said, folks will come and go, eventually the rich folks will have to wash their own dishes, plow there own driveways and clean their own homes and put out their own house fires…because when you cant enjoy one of the most beautiful places on the earth with out worrying about your rent..you leave.

  13. Connie

    July 24, 2015 at 9:51 am

    No. Construction workers don’t make up to $45 an hour. Maybe contractors do.

  14. Planet is ART & Stuff

    July 25, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Jorge’s story was well covered by the JHNG – multiple times. The driver turned himself in if I remember correctly – it took a while.

    Read the WSJ or NYT if you want news.

  15. Planet is ART & Stuff

    July 25, 2015 at 7:28 am

    UPS drivers make 45 hr – overtime.

  16. Planet is ART & Stuff

    July 25, 2015 at 7:30 am

    What’s disgusting?

    What’s untrue?

    Seems to me that YOU’RE wishing evil onto others.

  17. Planet is ART & Stuff

    July 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Thanks for the feedback.
    It points out how uninterested you are to differing opinions.
    Says a lot.

    Where is the hate?
    Be specific. Really. Let’s see if you can have an intelligent conversation.
    What bothers you?
    You don’t like an idea so that makes the idea a hateful one?

    Hopefully, you aren’t a Planet staff member.

    Free Speech is a good thing.

    A ‘moniker’ allows unpopular opinions to flourish in repressive environments like small towns where thinking outside the box (non-conformity) often gets confused with hate speech and small-minded people demand that everyone think like they do, act like they do, and support the liberal mindset that is pervasive in the Hole.

    BTW: you’re ‘moniker’ is PlanetJH. Who are you?

  18. Planet is ART & Stuff

    July 25, 2015 at 7:51 am

    You build an private apartment complex to MAKE MONEY.

    Does the Four Season’s lower their price for low-income visitors?

    Everyone wants a handout.

    If you want to change the game in your favor, get a better education. Make more money. Move to a town you can actually afford to live in like SO MANY people who work here already do. Why are you so special that YOU MUST LIVE HERE and SOMEONE MUST SUBSIDIZE YOUR LIFESTYLE?

  19. SOLUTION IS EASY

    July 25, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    If we aren’t going to build a connector road by Tribal Trails, then let’s build 4-story apartments for the working class in the connector’s right-a-way from S.P.Loop all the way to Hwy 22. There’s a solution! Free land and no traffic from Highway 22. Everybody wins.

  20. SOLUTION IS EASY

    July 25, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    RE; The dead girl

    If you have new information to provide that proves it wasn’t HER fault, please do speak up.

    Bike riders get run over by large trucks because the town of Jackson wants to mix cars, heavy trucks, stage coaches, horses, and pedestrians together. Dumb idea in a town where half the drivers are unfamiliar with the area and are often taking their eyes off the road because they are looking for parking, a destination, or at an attraction. Dumb idea where the streets are narrow. Dumb idea where the Town plasters signs everywhere – (Love those ‘STOP’ signs at intersections where you’re supposed to YIELD to pedestrians but not stop if pedestrians aren’t in a crosswalk – tourists slam on the brakes anyway). Dumb idea in a town where locals and visitors ride bikes and walk into intersections without stopping or looking. Dumb idea in the smartphone age. Dumb defines our transportation planners.

  21. SOLUTION IS EASY

    July 25, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    If this guy is spending so many hours volunteering then he has the free time to get second or third job assuming living here is worth it to him.

    And why is it that so many Latinos need legal services?

  22. Parker

    July 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    RE: “This town is completely hypocritical with all their leed building bullshit, while forcing the workforce to drive in from out of town.”

    True.

    Let’s talk about hypocritical people:

    You can’t complain about the lack of affordable housing and then put restrictions on development that make it impossible to build. You can’t complain about affordable housing and then approve more commercial development that creates a greater need for affordable housing. You can’t complain about commuting locals while begging for more highway traveling visitors. You can’t complain about highway safety and then refuse highway traffic funds to improve safety. You can’t say that living in Victor or Alpine is impossible and impracticable for local workers when thousand of people already do that. You can’t drive 5 blocks to a city council meeting and complain about too much traffic or ways to fix congestion. You can’t say that wildlife and view sheds are more important than people and then expect the working class to come out on top.

  23. Parker

    July 25, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Jackson is cheap compared to many locations. It’s just as expensive to live in many big cities or as was pointed out – oil towns.

    Jackson also has many more great attributes than the average town. You pay a price to live here if you’re poorly paid and you know that coming into the game.

  24. Matt

    July 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Jackson is planning itself into a corner.

    You, the worker, are supposed to be exploited by our community for a short period and then you are expected to leave so that we can bring in a new crop of cheap labor that won’t make demands upon the govt, the business community, or other residents. What’s really nice is that the community doesn’t have the expense of a lingering lower class as it ages. Old and poor is expensive. So is catering to lower-class families with government services. Keep the young single kids coming from Russia and send them back in 6 months. That’s how it works. Much to the surprise of some, the Latino population stuck around. Even a jacked life in Jackson was better than living in poverty in Mexico. And American workers stayed on in shitty jobs long past the expiration date for such adventures. They started families and those kids needed schooling and recreational activities and social services and resource centers and translators and more handouts than the average 90-day wonder. Next thing you know, our economic model isn’t working for these people. It wasn’t supposed to work for these people. It’s outdated but no one will say that the King has no clothes. Everyone is hoping that the old model has some juice left. Like the south clinging onto slavery, business owners and governments have refuse to change with the times.

  25. Martha

    July 27, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Nothing will change in Jackson if the Latinos leave, Jackson had practically no Latinos when we first worked summers there, but once they came (in the early 90’s) , they sure kept the wages low, that is all the did for Jackson Hole. Oh, let me not forget, some businesses made a lot of money because of the low wages.

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