Teton County Commissioner Says No More Free Market Housing, Opponent Disagrees

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

The race for Teton County Commission heated up last month as the commission vice-chair declared opposition to free-market housing developments.   

Vice-chair and Democratic candidate Luther Propst touted his commitment to deed-restricted housing projects in Teton County. Yet one of his Republican opponents, Kasey Mateosky, said Propst has been voting to stifle housing expansion of any kind – including deed-restricted.    

Propst denounced free-market housing in an Oct. 26 Facebook post with an accompanying video.   

“Let’s be perfectly clear: Creating more free market housing does not help our working class,” he wrote. “I am proud of my votes for truly affordable housing projects, and against projects that masquerade as ‘affordable’ but would just dig us deeper into a crisis.”   

Propst said he was proud of his vote against building “another 83 luxury homes in a place where we can house locals.”  

“It’s time to hold developers accountable and create more deed-restricted workforce housing to keep our community members in our community,” he added.    


Luther Propst and Kasey Mateosky

Candidate Counters  

Mateosky, however, told Cowboy State Daily that deed-restricted housing is not the issue; rather, Propst’s resistance to housing projects in general has limited workforce housing supply.     

He referenced housing projects denied by Propst and the majority of the commission, sometimes in the name of wildlife or open-space conservation.   

News reports confirmed as much. Multiple proposed housing projects have fallen through in recent years. Propst voted against allowing at least two major housing developments, along with commissioners Greg Epstein and Mark Newcomb.   

Voting down a proposed workforce zoning in 2019, Epstein said it would have jeopardized “the nebulous, hard-to-define qualities of open space and wildlife” in the region, Buckrail reported.    

In that same vote, Propst, who also voted against the zone change, said he wanted to have more holistic discussions about neighborhood planning rather than a one-off zoning change.   

‘They Don’t Want Us Here’ 

Mateosky theorized that Propst’s spoken commitment to deed-restricted housing could be a means to choke the market and stifle population growth in the affluent county.  

Deed-restricted housing in Teton County is housing the government restricts, capping resale prices and setting income and other requirements for what types of occupants can live in each home.  

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” said Mateosky. “And if you wanted your workforce to be around you, and you had a shot in the government to be for affordable homes … I’d vote yes for all those. Any opportunity we get to help house the workers, I’m behind.”   

Mateosky is a builder. When speaking of Teton County’s workforce, he uses plural first-person pronouns “we” and “us.”    

“They just don’t want us here,” he said of the commission majority.   

Propst did not respond to a Wednesday voicemail or Thursday list of emailed questions.   

Supply And Demand  

Mateosky said he is not opposed to deed restrictions. He said such government housing programs can be beneficial for people, adding that his children went through a similar program a decade ago.   

“(Deed-restricted housing) is a good idea,” he said. “But the trouble with what we’re having here is, over the course of the last 10, 15 years, the sitting commissioners have choked off the (housing) supply just a little at a time” by denying build projects.   

With less supply comes higher prices.    

About 38% of all homes in Teton County are worth more than $1 million – up 13% from the 2012 figure of 25%, according to Wyoming’s Administration and Information Division. In Uinta County, which has a roughly equivalent population to Teton County’s, the million-dollar housing category grew by less than 1% of its total in the same timeframe.   

Another problem, said Mateosky, is that government-controlled housing, while it allows the county commission and its bureaus to be restrictive about who lives where and how much homes cost, also enables the county government to stifle building and expansion.   

Not Much Land Though  

Teton County Assessor Melissa Shinkle told Cowboy State Daily that deed-restricted housing is highly controversial in the area, with detractors saying the occupants feed off government subsidies and don’t pay their share in property taxes, and proponents saying the restrictions are needed to house teachers, city, hospital and road maintenance employees, as well as other workers.   

“I think the majority does support it,” she said, adding that occupants of deed-restricted homes do pay property taxes on the restricted values, though the county often foots the bill for the initial purchase of each home when they’re not privately owned. There have been exceptions of people donating homes or land as well.   

Shinkle acknowledged Mateosky’s concern that letting the government control housing could stifle the home supply.  

“There is some truth to that, because as the town and county purchase more properties and restrict them, it will certainly move them from the open market; in essence, lessening the ability for outside purchases,” said Shinkle.  

But, she said, the luxury-home presence in Teton County is so huge, un-restricting the market wouldn’t be enough to drive the area home prices down to an attainable level for workers.   

Shinkle said she disagreed with the notion that the commission has contributed to the county’s soaring real estate prices by denying workforce residential zoning.   

“I can’t speak to their voting record, but when we have only 3% of private land, we’re already at a huge disadvantage (reining in prices),” she said.   

With so little land available, “you have to be careful of what you’re allowing to develop,” she said. “I don’t think their decisions necessarily contributed to that (price hike).”   

Propst told the Jackson Hole News and Guide in July that voters should embrace deed-restricted housing and should “carefully scrutinize claims that ‘unleashing the market’ will solve our housing crisis.”   

Rich Land, Price Freeze  

Teton County, Wyoming’s wealthiest region by a landslide, has struggled for years with soaring property values and resultant difficulty in housing workers. Many workers employed in the county commute thousands of miles a year, including during wintry mountain weather.    

The county commission this summer confronted the issue by approving a vision plan for a housing area to contain no less than 70% deed-restricted housing – 30% or less market, or non-restricted, housing.   

“Affordable housing,” a form of deed restriction, is just one of the county’s methods for controlling the housing market. It caps a home’s value increase at 3% of the consumer price index, which is an inflationary gauge. This prevents any profitable resale of the home, in perpetuity.   

Also, the Teton County Housing Department, an arm of county government, chooses the tenants and owners for those homes through a weighted drawing process. But there are strict eligibility requirements. For example, occupants must fit into a specific income range depending on the house, must work full-time in the county for at least a year, must not own other property within 150 miles of the county; they can’t have guests for more than 30 days out of the year, nor leave the unit for more than 60 days.   

Another governmental control in place in the county, called “workforce housing,” sets similar limits on who can live in or rent a home. It doesn’t cap rental rates, but this strategy does cap the resale price similar to affordable housing deals.    

Homeplace  

With his wife Liz Storer, Propst owns two properties in Teton County, according to the county’s land database.   

Their home and land on Elk Run Lane are valued this year at about $1.17 million. Their home and land on Whitehouse Drive are valued this year at about $2.3 million, according to the database. Neither plot is deed-restricted, the assessor’s office confirmed.   

Storer also is a Democratic political candidate, challenging Republican nominee Paul Vogelheim for a Wyoming House district based in Jackson.     

The Slate  

Like Mateosky, Republicans Peter Long and Tom Segerstrom also are running for seats on the commission.   

Propst and Mark Newcomb, both Democrats, are running for reelection. Wes Gardener is also running as a Democratic candidate. Brenden F. Cronin is running as an Independent.   

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