FEATURE STORY: For Rent? Forget it! Housing crisis hits home hard

By on May 26, 2015
Too good to be true? Prime location. Cozy one bedroom. Plenty of light. F/L/D, NS/NP. “Poverty with a view” has never been more apropos.  PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

Too good to be true? Prime location. Cozy one bedroom. Plenty of light. F/L/D, NS/NP. “Poverty with a view” has never been more apropos. PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – “It was like walking in on your partner with someone else.”

That’s how Caroline Croft Estay remembers the day not long ago when her landlady told her she was selling the home that she and her family of six rents in East Jackson. The Crofts had just cleaned the carpets to get ready for a walkthrough and were planning to ask their landlady about staining the deck and planting a garden.

“We had a verbal agreement to stay,” Estay said. “I was expecting to sign a lease and [then] I was told she’s selling. It just feels like nobody’s got each other’s back now when it comes to housing. Everyone is out for money. Did we not learn anything karmaically from 2007?”

Last June, when Christie Koriakin wrote the perennial housing crisis story, “God’s Country, Renter’s Hell,” for The Planet, she profiled Jared Rogers, an executive chef who had been living in his car for the past six months because he couldn’t find a decent place to live. Rogers has since moved out of the state to pursue paragliding, but the roadblocks he encountered trying to find an affordable place to live for him and his dog resonated with folks across the valley. Jackson’s housing crisis continues to swell and, on the heels of the inaugural housing summit in Jackson, we were compelled to check in with more folks one year later.

In 2015, property values are climbing back to their peak before the recession began in 2008 and with inventory low, many renters are being pushed out of their homes with little time to search for a new one before the summer workforce arrives. This tightens the rental market further.  Appraiser McKenzie Hammond said she is seeing home values increase 1 to 5 percent per month this year, which has been encouraging owners to sell.

But the limited supply of rental properties leaves a lot of Jackson residents in the lurch. As a single mom with two kids and a dog, I happen to be one of them. Hold on, there’s a knock on my home office door.

“I’m so sorry,” offered Realtor Sarah Kerr of RE/MAX Obsidian Real Estate, the listing agent for my Hall Street townhouse. She stopped by unannounced to drop off a sign. “I always feel bad for people like you who are caught in the middle.”

I wish she wasn’t so nice.

Estay’s landlady had tears in her eyes when she told her she was selling, she said. Indeed, these are emotional times.

Caroline Croft Estay, one of many renters who got “sold out.” PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

Caroline Croft Estay, one of many renters who got “sold out.” PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

When you receive the dreaded news, a sobering set of questions comes to mind: Will we have to leave the valley? Move to Victor, Driggs, Alpine or Alta and commute? Or will we find a place that we can barely afford? Every three bedroom that I’ve seen is double the price I’m paying. So I’m looking for something with two bedrooms now and my best leads have come by word of mouth.

“I’ve been told by landlords that they no longer advertise their places in the newspaper or through online vehicles simply because of the sheer number of respondents,” said Planet Editor Robyn Vincent, who just moved under duress after her West Kelly Avenue home was sold the same week it went on the market.

In its Comprehensive Plan, the town and county set a goal of housing 65 percent of the workforce locally, a goal that some feel is unrealistic.

County Commissioner Melissa Turley said she thinks the county’s goal to house 65 percent of its workforce is possible, “but not without a dedicated funding stream and a coordinated, effective housing effort.”

Turley added, “We’ve done great work to house our workforce over the last 20 years — in fact, as the owner of a deed restricted home, I am proof of that — but it is projected that we might need as many as 280 new workforce housing units every year for the next ten years to meet our goal of housing 65 percent of the workforce locally.”

Jorge Moreno made Super 8 his home for weeks. PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

Jorge Moreno made Super 8 his home for weeks. PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

The Grove, a mixed-use project near the Teton County Library with 20 rental apartments and 48 units for sale, is Teton County Housing Authority’s first foray into the rental market. The rentals, expected to be completed by Aug. 1, are the first phase of a three-part project on Scott Lane and Snow King Avenue with commercial space below and two floors of apartments above. Funding was recently approved for the second and third phase of freestanding condominiums for sale.

“The reason the first phase is being built with rentals was a response to a need for them,” Housing Authority Board Member Brian Siegfried said.

The lottery process for a modern one-, one-plus-, two-, two-plus-, or three-bedroom rental ended this week. I entered, even though they do not allow dogs.

Searching for solutions

Tom Evans, a longtime Jackson real estate broker, said the town’s policy to build affordable homes is not filling the gap. What we need, he says, is more rental apartments. He sees two viable options: One is getting the town to lease land designated for commercial developers to a private entity to build apartments. The other option is to build a tunnel to Victor, Idaho where rates are also on the rise but in comparison to Jackson, affordable housing opportunities abound, Evans said.

“The county should not be in the housing business,” he said. “We’ve been missing the boat. The people buying aren’t buying half-a-million dollar condos, they are buying $5 million houses. They still need their house cleaned and their lawn mowed. Those are [the people] who we need rentals for. With all the money we’ve spent we could build a tunnel through to Victor to create more opportunities for people to live in an affordable area in free-market conditions.”

Siegfried, who is also an associate broker at Sotheby’s, said more than half of the workforce housing is already produced by the private sector.

Turley agreed that private business plays a role in creating viable living options in the valley.

“If the free market could solve our workforce housing challenge, it would have already happened,” she said. “There are ways local government can facilitate the free market construction of workforce housing, but this problem won’t be solved without creating more publicly or privately subsidized housing.”

Town Councilman Jim Stanford highlighted the crisis at a recent meeting when he suggested creating a municipal campground for seasonal workers. A campground in town would relieve the pressure seasonal workers put on Forest Service campgrounds and the dirt roads to them and put an end to the “cat and mouse” game they have to play to find affordable housing.

“Curtis Canyon was never meant to be a commuter corridor,” he said.

Homeowners who are illegally renting their homes to vacationers are playing another “cat and mouse” game, he said.

“We are losing a lot of housing to short-term rentals for tourists so that people can make a buck,” Stanford said.

For the past two years, Stanford has been an advocate of cracking down on illegal short-term rentals, a proposal that was shelved last year. He has also advocated for a project to build rental units near Hall and Redmond streets and zone for more housing and less commercial property.

“If we zone for more (hotel) lodging, the deeper the hole we are in,” he said.

Housing experts and politicians involved in the first-ever housing summit last week talked a lot about raising sales taxes to create a funding stream for affordable housing — a measure that would require voter support in an upcoming election. There was also widespread support for restructuring the housing organizations so that there is more collaboration. In addition to the Housing Authority run by the county, there is the nonprofit Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, which is actively seeking funding for a project on Hall and Redmond streets, and Habitat for Humanity, a private nonprofit that is not affiliated with the government.

“One of the big conclusions that the Housing Authority stated is that we are interested in creating a more regional housing authority, including Teton County, Idaho and even Sublette County,” Siegfried said.

An independent report on affordable housing funded by Don Opatrny, a private investor and chairman of the board at the Center for the Arts, identifies “inefficiencies,” “frictions” and “inconsistencies,” in the town and county’s affordable housing policies. The report, culled from interviews with more than 70 housing stakeholders, says the community would have to build two and a half Groves per year to meet a housing needs assessment from 2007. Its author, Katy Niner, said Opatrny took an interest in the housing crisis after attending town council meetings and listening to the heated debates about the proposed Comprehensive Plan for potential commercial development.

It comes down to supply and demand. More hotels leads to greater demands for low-wage workers who need affordable housing, and means less space to house them. The demolition of the old Western Hotel — where dozens of low-income people were displaced — to build a Marriott is a prime example.

“I’m hopeful it was helpful at the summit,” Opatrny said. “A lot of the issues we raised were on the whiteboard.”

In its recommendations, the report calls for an overview of the county’s 1,488 affordable, deed-restricted units and suggests concentrating high-density housing by offering incentives to build and create open space in order to avoid street canyon effect with too many tall buildings downtown. Other ideas include a partnership between the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and the town and county to develop housing for rent for small business owners and their employees.

The study also addresses two population-related issues that are not often brought up in public debate. It says that the focus on two-to-three bedroom units is not serving the growing elderly and Latino populations. Latinos who uphold the service industry on which the tourist economy depends are “most at risk of displacement through the natural forces of redevelopment,” the report states.

What about the Latino community

As housing gets tighter, Latinos are being marginalized because they have large families and they may not have documentation, said Daniela Botur, a board member at the Latino Resource Center.

“These are major issues, particularly for Latinos who have not been a part of the conversation so far,” she said.

Jorge Moreno is a case manager at the Latino Resource Center. He said not a day goes by when he doesn’t receive a call about the housing crisis.

“People are losing their homes suddenly or trying to maintain the housing that they have,” he said. “We have clients who say landlords are raising the rent from 20 to 100 percent. They are forced to live month-to-month with no contract to protect them. They don’t want to do contracts for a year.”

Moreno knows the hardships firsthand after living at the Super 8 motel on and off for one month after his father suddenly sold his Rangeview home.

“I was going to take my wife and two kids to Oregon to stay with family and send money to them,” he said. “I was planning to camp or sleep in my car so I can provide for my family. All of the stuff I want to do for this community, everything was going to stop.”

A board member of the Doug Coombs Foundation who volunteers at the library to help with tax preparation and translates for various organizations, Moreno was on the cusp of leaving when he was lucky enough to find an apartment at Blair Place. The apartments across from the middle school have a waitlist of 60 people, he said.

Moreno described a sentiment that is becoming too common in Teton County: Losing your home and feeling desperate to find a new one.

“It changes the way you feel about who you are,” he said. “You are no longer in control of your life. You lose friendships and your community dreams and hopes.”

Losing a home and a business

My search to find people in the same boat as me — trying to decide what to sacrifice if they can even manage to stay in town — ended after I checked my email and walked around the block. I found three people with situations similar to mine. One is moving back east to my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., another is being priced out of her home and business and doesn’t know what to do, and then there’s the Croft Estay family.

Like Estay, Cathy Beloeil, owner of Café Boheme, says she knows what it’s like to feel like you are getting the rug pulled out from under you. She has moved four times in the past five years.

“Every time I move into a new place it gets sold,” she said. But losing her home, now in Victor, and her business both on the same day has her reeling. “Maybe I’ll find a piece of land to put a caravan on, then I’ll really be a bohemian.”

Former Mayor Mark Barron is leasing Beloeil’s cafe space, which is between the post office and Kmart, to Persephone Bakery to open a new restaurant.

Cathy Beloeil lost home and business on same day. PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

Cathy Beloeil lost home and business on same day. PHOTO: JOSH MYERS

“My error was I trusted him 100 percent,” she said, adding that she did not read the fine print to see that she didn’t have the right of first refusal on the cafe. “I understand that it’s their right to not want me here, but I would have liked the respect of being able to make an offer.”

Her attorney sent Barron a letter asking for options on a month-to-month, two- and five-year leases but did not get a response, she said.

Barron said he and his wife, State Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff “totally get the housing problem” and offer their employees housing for less than Housing Authority prices.

“As the original owners and tenants of the Seven-Ten Split café unit, we paid all the employee housing mitigation fees for that space,” he explained in an email. “Over the course of a five-year lease, we have forgiven many thousands of dollars in late fees, underpaid rent and discounted rent for the current tenant. Rather than kicking out the business for being in default, we worked with them to provide the opportunity to get through the entire term of the lease, which runs through May 31.”

Boloeil said she was able to get a month extension on her home in Victor but a sign in her café is counting down the days until her commercial lease ends.

A home for those who give back

With increased demand for rentals and fewer supply options, some landlords have become more restrictive about who they rent to. Even the Housing Trust, which used to ask about volunteer work and favor people who are community service oriented, is now only prioritizing emergency service providers. And landlords who used to consider pets are getting more restrictive.

Both Caroline Croft Estay and her husband Pete Croft have dedicated their careers to helping developmentally disabled kids and adults, sometimes taking care of them in their home or teaching them how to live independently. Pete is a fourth generation Teton Valley, Idaho native who works at C-V Ranch. Caroline is a licensed independent care provider who spearheaded the integrated employment program for Vertical Harvest to provide jobs for her clients. For the past two years Caroline’s tenth grade son and seventh grade daughter have volunteered at the Special Olympics. The couple also has two children under 3 years old and a dog.

I get exhausted just thinking about the logistics of their family. But when I walk over to their house for dinner, there is a clean and quiet hum of activity. After 15 years in Jackson, the Crofts were able to use their connections to find a new home. A friend’s neighbor who will be leaving this summer rented them their place in Cottonwood Park. Starting in August, they will pay almost 20 percent more than they did in East Jackson, forcing them to cut back on their budget. But they are relieved to be able to stay in the valley.

“I sent out a mass email and I had such an outpouring,” Estay said. “We had to stay in Wyoming for the kids’ school.”

Those were my sentiments exactly when I sarcastically posted on Facebook asking for a “three bedroom house with a fenced in yard for my dog, and Teton views by a babbling brook.”

God knows there’s nothing in the classifieds. No luck yet.

“Sure there are a lot of 20-somethings out there looking for housing, but there are so many families that are displaced now,” Estay said. “You have to be open to anything.”

About Julie Fustanio Kling


  1. Stop the insanity

    May 28, 2015 at 6:14 am

    If you don’t like the housing situation, move. There’s plenty of housing in Idaho Falls.

    Like business owners who think the government should guarantee them easy profits with cheap imported labor, the cheap labor thinks that the government should guarantee them an easy living with cheap housing. Everybody wants a handout.

    We have too many businesses doing the same thing in this valley and duplicating the need for employees who do the same thing (usually low-wage employees). We have too many people who think that anybody who comes to Jackson should be able to live here no matter their skill set, income, or the availability of housing.

    Our tax structure, our tourist economy, our environment, our land-use policies, our immigration policies all help accelerate the problem.

    Immigrants worked for lower wages and allowed businesses to hire more people. They took up more housing as their families expanded. They helped fuel the need for more people to service their needs. The low wages made it harder for people to afford housing in the area and unlikely that developers would build housing to suit their needs.

    Our tax structure attracted the wealthy who could out bid others for property. Our land-use policies drove up the price of land and thus rents. We continue to support, and subsidize, the tourism industry. We insist on attracting more visitors who will need more people to service them.

    We don’t need new sales taxes on local purchases to build more housing. The lack of housing will limit growth and force weak businesses to fold and prevent others from entering the market. We need to limit the growth of low-wage jobs and we need to let the marketplace kill off those businesses that only serve to subsidize the wealthy or the tourist.

  2. Alpine Life

    May 28, 2015 at 7:54 am

    We were kicked out of our housing last fall. With one month’s notice, we carefully weighed pros/cons of our job situation, commuting, cost, to stay or to move away, etc. Ultimately, we made the decision to live in Alpine. Bottom line: life is constantly changing and sometimes you have to make tough decisions. You always have a choice, so make it and quit complaining.

  3. Crazypants

    May 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Pretty sure most people are looking to the town for help because the private sector has failed them by kicking them out, raising their rent to unaffordable levels, or is secretly playing the VRBO game. Also limiting growth, reducing competition among businesses, and trying to intentionally gimp tourism sounds like a horrible idea. As much as people may want Jackson to be like it was 30 years ago, I’m afraid to tell you its not gonna happen.

  4. Carlos & Jose

    May 28, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    “….secretly playing the VRBO game. ”

    Yelp, it’s not something that helps the housing situation. The fact is that YOUR government just approved more short-term rentals at Shooting Star despite years of review that initially prevented the hotel model for that development.

    “Pretty sure most people are looking to the town for help because the private sector has failed them”

    Of course you think that. You’re part of the handout culture. Someone needs to subsidize your lifestyle in Jackson. You can’t live elsewhere like Alpine, Victor, or Beverly Hills?

    Maui should be forced to build cheap housing for me so that I can move there and live high on the hog like every billionaire. Why should I suffer in a regular city like Salt Lake? I should be able to move to Banff, Canada and get free health care, cheap housing, and a great job just because I want to. Doesn’t matter that I’m not a citizen of Canada.

    The town & county prevented affordable housing development with land-use policies and expensive regulations. They pushed for more tourism which put a heavy demand on housing stock. They allowed Jackson to become a sanctuary city and immigrants flooded the housing market and depressed wages. They pushed for subsidized homes for a select few instead of rentals for the many. The tax structure’s effect on the real estate market encourages speculation, absent homeowners, and high real estate prices. You ignore the government’s hand in creating the housing problem. The private sector would be happy to build affordable housing – the JHMR did – but the government makes it cost prohibitive for most developers and private employers. The JHMR had to beg and beg some more just to get 4 story employee dorm rooms built. BEG. Yeah, it’s private developers that are the problem. We could put 300 mobile homes on the SE corner of the Elk Refuge but the govt won’t allow it. It’s YOUR land.

    You support run-away growth in the hospitality sector? The low wages dished out in Jackson’s service sector make living in Alpine & Victor difficult. You want more of that? You are nuts.

    “limiting growth, reducing competition among businesses, and trying to intentionally gimp tourism sounds like a horrible idea.”

    Well, if there is a tight housing market then wages rise with competition for employees that are in limited supply. You saw this with Lucky’s grocery store. They stole employees from all the other grocery stores by promising better wages. But you want to subsidize these businesses by allowing them to keep wages depressed through government handouts to their employees. Or by hiring immigrants who may shack up ten to a room. You want more public subsidizes for the private sector and their wealthy customers?

    We can’t find workers for the hotels we have but you want to build more hotels? Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep insisting we need more duplication of goods and services. How about another government entity altogether that duplicates the services that our current ones provide?

    No to more public housing – unless it’s for the disabled or the elderly who have spent their life here.

  5. Carlos & Jose

    May 28, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    “As much as people may want Jackson to be like it was 30 years ago, I’m afraid to tell you its not gonna happen.”

    So true. Jackson will change and outgrow its pants size. The question is how we get there and what we look like along the way.

  6. Carlos & Jose

    May 28, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Like many, I have also lived outside the valley and life did not come to an end.

    God luck and sorry to hear about the 1 month’s notice.

  7. Carlos & Jose

    May 28, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Think twice before having kids or adopting a dog. Don’t start complaining that you can’t find a decent place to live after the fact and expect to have the govt provide a solution due to your shortsightedness or selfishness.

    We see this with our teachers who are begging for to get a job in Teton County and then once they get a teaching job, they are complaining that they can’t afford to live here. Idiots teaching our children and subsidized idiots at that. I live in unsubsidized housing and I don’t have the wages teachers pull down or the wages & benefits afforded full-time Town & County employees. I could easily teach and do so without a handout. This idea that the best and brightest will leave the valley without a handout is proven wrong every day.

    Everyone wants a handout. People been here three years and they think that the govt should subsidize their families so that they can continue to live here instead of suffering with the masses in Los Angeles or where ever.

    Jackson used to be full of people living in log cabins with no central heating or plumbing. Bunch of wimps now.

  8. dave

    May 29, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    i see things haven’t changed since i left 10 years ago! same complaint about housing, yet i’d see the same people at the airport going to chile, costa rica, etc. i can’t afford malibu but i sure would like to live there!

  9. Abe

    May 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

    The government should cater to the needs of all its citizens. Rich and poor. Without people working at the JHMR, the golf courses, the restaurants, the landscaping companies, the hospital, etc, the economy would shut down. As things stand, the working class is being screwed by the private sector and the government.

    The best way to get the attention of the government and all those wealthy, or comfortably housed, would be to have the working class stop working. Stop trash pickup. Close the gas pumps. Shut down the airport. Close the grocery store. Stop deliveries. Refuse to clean the toilets. Close the schools. Stop delivering the mail. Let the grass wild grow at the golf course. Shutter the bike shop. Lock the doors at the Snake River Grill.

    The working class would be happy to pay market rates for housing if they were paid enough to afford it and there was any housing available.

    Why is it that everyone except the working class should be properly compensated? The poor aren’t asking for yachts, second homes with 20,000 sq ft of art work, or a Ferrari LaFerrari. They just want housing that meets their needs, a little joy in life, and some basic security for the future in terms of health care & retirement.

    Subsidizing the wealthy & the government through the labor of the poorly compensated is what we have now. They are the undeserving.

    A tent city designed to keep the money flowing to the movers and shakers? A tent city to keep tax machine pumping? Forget the tent city. Roll up the wooden sidewalks and turn off the lights. Grab a gun and stake your claim on a second home.

  10. Reality Check

    May 30, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Can we get a link to Don Opatrny’s housing study?

  11. Reality Check

    May 30, 2015 at 5:40 pm

  12. murph

    June 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    another recession will be the only thing keeping teton county in check,so hold on, its right around the corner,and then the opportunity will present itself

  13. Lifted

    June 4, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    “I could easily teach and do so without a handout.”
    No sir you absolutely could not, teaching requires empathy of which you obviously have none.
    “Idiots teaching our children and subsidized idiots at that.”
    I assume you are talking about the school district housing which is strange if you actually consider a $400k town home subsidized. Try crunching $55k a year into that mortgage payment and see what you come up with. The idiot in the room is obvious here but it certainly isn’t any of the fine people in this valley who make their careers in educating our children. Thank God you don’t have any children of your own and if by chance you do then pray to God for their well being.

  14. Sam

    June 9, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Maybe if realtors hadn’t advertised all our homes and land in the Wall Street Journal, 40% of our homes wouldn’t be sitting vacant 95% of the year.

    Maybe if the town aggressively cracked down on VRBO and Air b-n-b there would be more long term rentals at lower prices

    Maybe if the town and county planners had approved ANY new developments in the last TWENTY FREAKING YEARS besides billionaire-oriented golf courses we would have more medium density housing for locals.

    Maybe if people didn’t exchange massive parcels of land for Land Trust tax write offs we could meet housing needs into the future.

    Maybe if the shortsighted greed of local planners, developers and realtors didn’t usurp the priority of a strong local community we could have avoided a lot of the above scenarios.

    Jackson is now more ‘about’ elitism and greed than even Aspen. The future of the local citizens this depends almost entirely on taking advantage of tourists and the wealthy. If you can’t survive off the tit of one of those two, you won’t find a place for yourself here. Not now, and I can’t even imagine what a hellish existence people will battle twenty years from now.

    Truth be told, between global warming and the general apathy and lack of vision our past leaders have demonstrated, many people would be better off trying to find their mountain dream in Montana or BC. As far as ‘gross domestic happiness’ in Jackson is concerned, I’d be shorting it for the foreseeable future. Unless we get new leadership and a more community-oriented vision with some pretty remarkable changes, this town is screwed for all but the extremely wealthy.

  15. Sam

    June 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    This town and the people who control it have catered to the wealthy and tourists no stop for forty years. They have given little consideration to anyone else except when they can’t find workers to run their tourist businesses. It’s unlikely to change without an uprising and some pretty brave leadership, sadly.

  16. Brenden

    June 9, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    How about an apartment building? I don’t need a yard, I’ve got Grand Teton national park and the Bridger Teton national forest. Seriously though why no apartment building? Or two? It makes complete sense, I know i’ll never be rich but I do love Jackson and hope to live there for the rest of my life. And lets be real people and put our names down…Stop the insanity?

  17. Lene

    October 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks for this post and others like it! I was considering applying for a recent county position and pssibly relocating to Jackson Hole until I read a couple of articles like this one. I lived in Hawaii and went through this same housing problem for a few years -No More! This familiar housing scenario in JH greatly disappoints me because I was really starting to get excited about Life in Jackson Hole! Basically, the culprit is: “Money comes into the area to create more money, so workers are needed; however, local government really does not want an influx of more permanent residents (they don’t want the change in crime, environment, or size), so they won’t build which causes housing homelessness which produces a greater demand, which causes greed and jacked up rental prices!” Most rentals are month to month so that when you are in season, landlords boot you out so they can jack up the rent for more money. This is the very same problem in Hawaii the #1 capitol of Homelessness!

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