Local Syndrome: The Jackson Hole Hijack, Part 1

By on March 28, 2018

What happens when a town trades its community members for something more marketable?

(Ryan Stolp)

My childhood home is empty. Our unit in Creekside Village has had its shades drawn, showing virtually zero signs of life since we moved out seven years ago. I suspect the current owners use it as a temporary home, like many spots in Jackson, but there’s something eerie about its vacant indifference.

When I pass it on the bike path, there’s nothing on the deck, no potted flowers, no little Andrew Munz peeking out of his upstairs window. It’s devoid of any indication that my family had lived there for 16 years.

Creekside Village is where Charlie currently makes his home, albeit in a different unit. Charlie is a pseudonym for a gentleman I interviewed for my short-lived podcast “Snow Report.” The goal of the podcast was to document Jackson’s collective voice and record the opinions of anonymous locals. When listeners weren’t paying attention to the message and instead trying to guess the names of guests, I pulled the plug.

But Charlie’s story must still be told.

(Out of respect of our initial agreement, I am keeping Charlie anonymous.)

He is a musician, a passionate community man who has a deep affinity and respect for Jackson’s cultural growth, but has hit one housing roadblock after another. The lack of laws protecting renters’ rights has been a thorn in Charlie’s side, and has thrown him into periods of panic as he tried to find another affordable housing option.

“It is frustrating when again you hear of another long-term local who loses their housing and then ultimately their footing in the community,” he told me. “You think, ‘Oh god, maybe I’m next.’”

We sat at his kitchen table as it snowed outside, and I couldn’t help my flashbacks living in one of these units. The layout was different, but the detailing of the cabinets, the doors, the flooring, all of it transported me back to my childhood.

It was both home and nothing like it.

“I feel like I am accountable to this community, but so many other people don’t feel that way. How do you change that?”

Speaking with another Jackson resident who is just as uncertain of their local future as you are can be a humbling experience.

We’re not alone.

The housing crisis is a topic that infects much of the community on a deep, emotional level. But to many others, it’s not much more than a commonly seen headline. The fact that things are moving at a snail’s pace isn’t alleviating that issue either.

“It’s apathy. I’ve reached that recently because things aren’t getting better, the housing crisis is not getting better, the town and the county are not stepping up to give us what we all wanted, which was some kind of laws. Our government is failing us,” he said.

The town passed a diluted “tenant protection” ordinance 3-2 in August 2017 that requires landlords to give tenants a 30-day notice before kicking them to the curb. The housing advocacy group Shelter JH had suggested several other useful measures that were difficult for the town and its attorneys to enact; state law, they found, would trump town ordinance.

Charlie compared the community to an onion, built out of layers, each one covering the last. On the first layer, the marketable Jackson Hole™ is prominent, clearly showcasing all the valley has to offer to the outside world. But deep down, the community and its issues are revealed. It takes some peeling back to understand and empathize with the work force that drives the community’s economy and culture, but Charlie doesn’t see much hope at its core.

“We’re rotting from the inside out,” he said. “But you know I feel like I am accountable to this community, but so many other people don’t feel that way. How do you change that? How do you get them to open up their eyes? I’ve wondered that myself.”

It’s no secret that Jackson lacks a unified voice when it comes to housing. The Not In My Backyard movement and the oft-expressed, stomach-churning concept that Jackson might just be increasingly unaffordable, “and if you can’t afford it, then maybe you should move,” are detrimental to attaining any sort of solution. The deep crevasse between the working class and the more affluent homeowners is only growing more and more obvious.

However, Charlie believes that those who are victims of the crisis have more power than they realize, and have the ability to create lasting change with our votes.

“There are more of us than there are of them. We forget that,” he said. “But we need to stop being apathetic and understand that this is up to us, not them.”

Change is inevitable and Jackson still has plenty of it on the horizon. To many of its locals, Jackson has become both home and nothing like it. Indeed, the opportunities for a lasting life in the valley diminish as the cost of living continues to climb. People will be forced to leave, and more childhood homes will be vacated and purchased by folks who live in them perhaps a month out of the year.

But do the struggling members of the community have enough willpower to unite and fight back?

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