An Upholstered Life

By on June 8, 2017

Town workers are a step closer to legally living in homes on wheels.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The short-term housing solution—that is actually camping, that is actually parking—cleared two more hurdles during Monday’s Jackson Town Council meeting and a special budget workshop Tuesday.

Ordinance P, which would allow for overnight parking in designated spots in town, passed on first and second reading. It still has to make it through one more ordinance reading to become law, but if/when it does, full-time valley workers will be able to park their cars and attached campers in a designated lot north of the Rec Center from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. throughout the summer, assuming they have a permit from their employer.

The program is designed so that employers can purchase permits for $15 per night (total cost is $1275 for the months of June through September), for the duration of the summer, to distribute to their employees. According to a Town of Jackson staff report, the fee will cover small overhead expenses like porta-potties, trash removal, and two charging stations.

This system, Parks and Rec director Steve Ashworth said, provides some insurance that the spots are occupied by full-time employees. “In case an employee there works two to three weeks and is no longer employed, the permit would go back to the employer” to give to another employee, he explained. Since the May 15 meeting, however, individual employees have expressed interest in available spaces. The ordinance allows for “some flexibility for town staff to develop rules and procedures and adapt to changing situations,” according to the staff report.

Town of Jackson personnel director Roxanne Robinson said that so far, no businesses have actually applied for permits for their employees, but one hospital employee has expressed interest. The town has also reserved five permits for Parks and Rec employees and one for Teton County Library.

Some concerned citizens, like Tim Rieser, were opposed to the proposal early on. Such a program, Rieser said, is not fleshed-out enough to actually provide any solutions. Asking the workforce to sleep in the back seat of their cars is “despicable,” he said. “That’s their solution? It’s ungodly.”

The council, though, acknowledged the program’s shortcomings. Councilors Jim Stanford and Don Frank and Mayor Pete Muldoon all took comfort in calling it a “pilot program.”

The pilot program is designed to provide a very temporary but legal solution to an immeasurable lack of workforce housing, especially during the summer seasons. Council members said they recognize many employees already park and sleep illegally in streets and up Curtis Canyon during the summers anyway.

“We’re trying this as a pilot program,” Muldoon said after Monday’s meeting. “We all know how tough the housing situation is, and the town council is pursuing every option available.”

At least, Muldoon argued, having designated legal overnight parking spots will alleviate some of the stress of late-night campsite scoping and dodging the law. It’s not a perfect solution, he said, but it’s a start. “Hopefully we can provide a few options for some people while also gathering information for a better program in the future,” Muldoon said.

Workforce camping has long been a Shelter JH initiative. The 501c4 nonprofit group advocates for housing solutions for Teton County’s workforce.

Councilor Hailey Morton-Levinson was the sole dissenting voice on May 15. She said a workforce camping program should be well planned and thought-out, and was not convinced council had enough time to work out the details for this summer. Instead, she would have preferred to carry on with this discussion for the summer of 2018. Still, the overnight parking ordinance passed unanimously through its first two readings.

“I’m fine with camping, it’s more the specific plan that I wasn’t super keen on,” Morton-Levinson explained. “It still made sense for me to support the ordinance, I’d just rather still just see us have a better plan. As I said, I hope everyone’s proving me wrong in September.”

The final reading is scheduled for June 19. If it clears, the ordinance will become law effective June 21.

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