FROM OUR READERS

By on May 10, 2016

Local businesses are doing fair share to house the valley’s workforce

The blame game has its appeal. But pointing fingers, calling people greedy and picking a sole target to unleash frustrations about the housing shortage brings us no closer to understanding the problem or finding solutions. Wouldn’t it be more productive to abstain from harsh words that stir up anger. Instead, what if we engaged in gentle dialogue?

I’m certain that both sides have their merit. So let’s work together as a community for a solution to the housing crisis, because we all want the same outcome of more workforce housing.

When it comes to Jackson’s housing shortage, it’s just not that simple to blame commercial growth. What we should do is look at the root causes of growth in our community.

Over the last 13 years, institutional growth has increased at a rate of 98 percent. Commercial businesses have only grown at a rate of 1.9 percent, and hotels a mere .6 percent. This is according to Jackson/Teton County officials.

Institutional growth means things like schools, libraries, churches, the Western Heritage Arena, the Wyoming Game & Fish office and the Center for the Arts. Like most Jackson residents, I support these institutions for the services they provide and the cultural opportunities they bring. Institutions like these are a part of what makes our community so great.

What we shouldn’t forget is these institutions also bring more jobs, and more need for housing. However, they are not required to provide employee housing.

Which begs the question: Where does employee housing come from? If you look at the biggest drivers of employee housing you will see it is the private sector—Jackson businesses that have supplied 80 percent of today’s workforce housing.

So why are business owners being blamed as the sole cause of Jackson’s housing shortage?

In reality, addressing commercial growth is a piece of the puzzle. Of course there need to be limits on commercial growth in Jackson. No one is arguing against that, but blaming the very people who have provided the majority of the workforce housing and jobs only separates us further from each other and from finding solutions.

A group of business owners in town recently started a coalition “Think About It, Jackson Hole” to express their opinion and to inform the public about the consequences and implications for the land development regulations proposed by town council. Judging from the content of their Facebook page, “Think about it, Jackson Hole” has valid points, and is not a faceless group of rich outsiders. They are our friends, neighbors, colleagues and bosses.

They’re people like Jim and Dood Loose, who have owned and operated the Golden Eagle and Four Winds Motel for decades. They are business owners like Mark Walker, who is passing the reins of his restaurant onto his kids, who grew up here and are now raising families of their own. They are also community fixtures like Joe and Denise Rice, who came to Jackson decades ago and built a business from the ground up, and now employ hundreds of Jackson residents providing housing for more than 50 of them. Moreover, they have plans for an 82-unit employee apartment building they are ready to build today, but are facing a lengthy Town approval process.

As the numbers of employee housing provided by these business owners point to, these people care deeply about the community, its future and the hard working men and women that keep this town and their business’ running. To paint them as faceless, corporate zombies with no greater motivation than greed is misinformed and insulting. Most importantly, it doesn’t serve to bring us together to find a positive solution to our housing shortage.

I imagine most Jackson employers and employees see the benefit of local businesses helping to provide housing, especially onsite. Onsite employee housing in the form of mixed-use buildings would cut down on traffic and help mitigate the housing shortage.
Earlier this year our elected officials reversed course on the 2012 Comprehensive Plan, ignoring the Planning Commissioners recommendations, and regressed back to the 1994 Plan.

Their proposed FARs (Floor Area Ratios) would severely limit opportunity for density and mixed use downtown. It’s difficult to understand how less density is going to provide more space for housing, yet that is what the new proposed FARs are offering.

There is no doubt it would be beneficial to business owners to build with more density; it’s also evident that it would be beneficial to mitigating the housing crisis. If a land owner is able to build with larger FARs then they can provide onsite employee housing. However, with the currently proposed FARs they’re discouraged from doing so.

As a community let’s have an issues-based conversation. Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Let’s not call names and assume the worst of our ideological opposition. Let’s realize that both sides want the same conclusion, to mitigate the housing shortage, to take care of the men and women that are not only the workforce of Jackson, but what makes Jackson great.

– Blake Morley

Wyoming women have choices

We write regarding Guiliana Serena’s recent article, “Voices of Choice,” [April 27, 2016] and abortion services in Jackson and, more generally, Wyoming. We were saddened to hear about the difficulties reported in the editor’s introduction, and we want to provide information so others may avoid similar stresses.

It is correct that Wyoming’s laws and too many of its politicians are not supportive of and, in effect, are punitive to women accessing their right to make their personal decisions about their lives, including abortion services. However, numerous advocates, supporters, and the local providers work indefatigably to support women seeking to access abortion care. Women for Women, a small nonprofit, provides information about providers (contact information, services, cost, etc.) relevant to Wyoming residents at wyomingw4w.org. For those Wyoming residents who cannot afford an abortion, Women for Women offers funding. The Wyoming Abortion Fund, administered by Wyoming Planned Parenthood, likewise helps provide funding for Wyoming residents. NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, prochoicewyoming.org, has for the last 25 years successfully fought Wyoming legislators’ most egregious efforts to restrict abortion and effectively punish Wyoming women (and even their health care providers) for accessing this basic health care right. For example, Wyoming does not have any “waiting period” (compared to a Draconian 72-hour waiting period in neighboring states Utah and South Dakota). On the other hand, please be aware that Turning Point, like “pregnancy resource centers” throughout the nation, seeks to dissuade women from making and implementing their personal decisions to terminate their pregnancy. However, the local providers, whom you can find at wyomingw4w.org, are excellent resources and provide all-options counseling. You are also welcome to call Women for Women’s hotline – 307-438-9272 – for information.

– Christine Lichtenfels, Women for Women

– Sharon Breitweiser, NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming

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