By B. Wayne Hughes Jr., Chairman, Hughes Charitable Foundation
B. Wayne Hughes Jr. is a husband, father, rancher and philanthropist who calls Jackson home.
Many of our fellow citizens here in Teton County are not aware of the social services provided by our local nonprofit groups. From food banks to after school programs, from career counseling to just having a safe bed to spend the night, these selfless servants and their organizations strengthen our community in these and many other ways to make our community safer, more connected and humane.
Many, if not all, of us know the meteoric rise in housing costs and goods and services. Teton County’s hourly wage earners and frontline workers have, and are, being priced out of the real estate market. Homeownership in Teton County is out of reach for them. Forever. It is more than a heavy lift just to pay the average $2,400 monthly rent for a studio/one-bedroom here in Jackson on the wages being offered to workers.
As a result, even our restaurants and visitor services have cut back operations due to a lack of labor. Some local healthcare workers and hotel employees are having their housing subsidized by their employers. Construction and restaurant employees are commuting an average of 60 minutes each way to reach their jobs here in Teton County.
The local nonprofit health and human services community is no different. Hiring and retaining skilled, trained and committed employees is now at a crisis point. Even well-established and longtime organizations are now losing their best and brightest due to this crisis.
Supply and demand are foundational to understanding our current housing situation. Demand, spurred on by buyers from all over the country, is at an all-time high. Most of us here in Teton County are a product of that very same demand. We also have no control over demand; it is what it is. Supply, defined by what’s available and what’s yet to be built, cannot keep up. Hence the rise in prices and the decline in affordability. Supply will always be a challenge due to political, geographical, environmental and conservation considerations. Permanently protected lands – Forest Service, National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife reserves and conservation easements – account for over 97% of all land in the county. This is a good thing. It’s one reason why we all love it here.
The remaining lands are inside the Town of Jackson or Teton County and under the management of elected officials. We hear of their concern, their sympathies and their complaints. To date, no politically elected official has stepped forward with any meaningful ideas on how to deal with what is now a large scale housing crisis for many, including our health and human services community. Government needs to facilitate zoning and approvals that allow for nonprofits and private companies to take on new developments – and then government needs to get out of the way.
It is imperative that we stand for, protect and support our health and human services community – and our firefighters, law enforcement and healthcare workers – by building housing for them. Without them, we live in a completely different place. A poorer place.
Teton County is not for everyone, but for those of us who call it home it’s time to start caring, time to start speaking out, and it’s time to start giving. Many of us have seen the problem and it is us. Hopefully our recent citizens will focus more on joining our community than being ex-citizens from where they came. Our recent citizens are mostly well-to-do and have capacity to give, but have little knowledge of our current situation and the need for their assistance in addressing the crisis. Our local real estate brokerage community can and should be ambassadors for how new residents can become involved by conveying information about our community and how new residents can become involved. It is the real estate community that’s helping to channel 3 billion dollars of investment into this county and they are not doing it for free. There’s room for their leadership.
Established enclaves need to understand that the often invisible support that sustains their pleasant lives needs help and that help may include new development in places where they’d rather not see it. We need more of our local workforce living locally.
And to those that say “the problem cannot be solved so why try?” – they need to look into their hearts and realize that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” It may not make a difference to you, but it does to someone you know.
You will soon hear more news about projects coming from our foundation’s leadership. But we are only one group. This call is to you, to get involved now. Below are several of the not-for-profit health and human services organizations that you can contact and pledge support.