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Lack Of Affordable Housing In Wyoming Is Killing Employers’ Ability To Hire

in Housing/Economic development/News
27547

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Four teachers who had signed on to work for a school district in Wyoming backed out of their contracts when they couldn’t find housing. 

The example, presented by state Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, during the second day of the Governor’s Business Forum in Laramie on Thursday, is one example of how the state’s housing crisis is undermining efforts to attract workers for existing positions, much less build in new jobs by diversifying the economy.

Sweetwater County, meanwhile, had just 130 properties on the market as of this week, said Craig Rood of Green River, some of which were undoubtedly oil field, while Cheyenne LEADS CEO Betsey Hale noted that Cheyenne needs 5,000 more single-family housing units and an additional 8,401 rental units, according to a spring 2022 housing study. 

In Teton County, meanwhile, rents have increased on average $1,670 from 2020 to 2022, putting the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment at $4,170, Hale said.

That set the stage for a panel that explored potential housing.

‘A War In Housing Crisis’

“Think about firefighters, teachers, police officers, service hospitality workers,” Hale said, adding later that, “I do think we’re in a war in housing crisis right now.”

Some of the problem, said state Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, lies at local levels rather than with the state.

Kinskey said he was recruited by friends in Sheridan to become that city’s mayor because of a critical housing shortage during the coal-bed methane boom.

“There were 20 vacant lots in the city and the entire county,” Kinskey recalled. “There was just no inventory, no availability.”


A panel discusses affordable housing issues in Wyoming during this week’s Governor’s Business Forum on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Sheridan’s Model

One of the first things Kinskey did was hire a consultant to review all the city’s processes, some of which were slowing down or in some cases preventing subdivisions and annexations. 

“He convened a panel of developers, architects, engineers and contractors without any city employees, without any politicians present, and interviewed them about our building permit processes, our subdivision processes and our annexation processes,” Kinskey said. “Then he convened a group of city employees, and all of those departments, and interviewed them.”

From that, the consultant compiled a list of 98 things the city could do to improve, along with an 18-month timeline for implementing them. 

The other thing the city did under Kinskey’s leadership was expand. 

“We engaged in some broad-scale annexation, three of the largest annexations in city history,” he said. “We expanded the footprint of the city by over a third.”

But it was not enough to simply annex property into the city. The size of the annexation was important, Kinskey said. Developers needed to build at a certain scale to remain profitable.

The other thing Sheridan did was create margin for their projects by providing dollar-for-dollar infrastructure to projects, based on a per acre land cost. 

“It was a fair exchange and from that we developed the shared high-tech business park,” Kinskey said. “So that was a win-win for everybody.

“Those are the three improving processes. Making sure you have plenty of land inventory, then using large developers with land for infrastructure deals to help reduce their risk, and that helped get what essentially became for us a land trust for a business park, but the same concept works very well for housing.”

Housing As Economic Development

Laramie County Commissioner Gunnar Malm, meanwhile, echoed some of the same issues Kinskey raised about needlessly time-consuming or expensive processes gumming up the works for developers.

“I guess one of my biggest frustrations now, being a commissioner, is knowing how the most important and the most expensive part of any transaction or real estate deal is time,” he said. “And that is what I think government can do better.”

As an example, Malm said he has a day care provider that wants to locate in a large commercial building he owns in Cheyenne. The building was previously a mental health data center. 

“A child care center is different, so it triggered a whole new set of site review and plan changes, which include me replacing all of the sidewalk up front, because the grade and slope to the street is just a little bit too much,” Malm said.

“So now, instead of us having new child care facility, I have to make a determination as a business owner if putting this extra infrastructure into this particular building is going to be worth it for this tenant. Or, if it’s better for me to eat the cost of that over time and try to lease it to somebody else.”

Malm added that Cheyenne has been great to work with on the issue and has helped him come up with a work-around.

“But it’s just one of those things,” he said. “We might be 5,000 housing units short, but with those 5,000 housing units come a host of other services that we’re not equipped to handle – child care, medical, all of those things that are so great.”

Some Successes

The housing crisis is in some ways part of a success story, Malm added. 

“A part of the success we’ve had with the economic development in every county is we have an influx of people and revenue and things like that in the corporate sector, but housing doesn’t pay for itself,” he said. “The system we have set up, without going off on a real tangent and keeping us here for hours, isn’t structured for housing to pay for the infrastructure that it requires.”

Like Kinskey’s consultant, Cheyenne’s housing study makes a number of suggestions, including using alternative building materials and other cost-reduction strategies, Malm said.

“We need to be flexible,” he said. “We need to continue to work with our partners in the development community.”

Defining ‘Affordable’

While affordable housing means one thing to the general public, it means something very specific to Melissa Noah, executive director of the Wyoming Housing Network. The statewide nonprofit’s goal is helping families achieve their next housing goal, whatever that may be. That could be a homeless person getting into an apartment or an apartment dweller getting into a home.

“Through that, we’re creating solid communities that have people who get to that wealth building and security, because they have solid housing that they can afford,” she said. “And that creates generational wealth, which is then invested back into your community.”

But for her purposes the word “affordable” is tied to dollar figures.

“How many of you have employees making less than $49,000 a year?” She asked. “OK, $49,000 a year is about the average 80% of AMI around the state of someone who would be considered low income. 

“And what low income means is that that household and that person is in danger of one financial emergency, medical, job-related, whatever it might be, that tips them over the edge into potential homelessness or potential crisis.”

Affordable properties that Noah works with are for people who are 60% to 30% of area median income.

Know Your Demographics

These are all figures Noah suggested community leaders keep in mind when they are trying to balance their housing inventories to meet the needs for an area’s various demographics, from low and fixed incomes on up.

“The other thing I would challenge you to look at in your community is aging housing,” she said. “That’s an area we also look at, acquiring aging properties, because they can be an opportunity to redevelop and create clean, safe, affordable housing.”

“Or,” she added, “they become a risk for your community as they continue to go down.”

Low-income families most often end up living in older properties that slowly, but surely, lose their livability.

“We do counseling to help people move from a mold-infested house,” Noah said. “We have people who have no plumbing, who have doors that don’t seal in the winter and windows where snow comes in. These are things that happen when your housing in your communities is aging. So, I just encourage you to look at that as an opportunity.”

Business leaders should particularly care about safe and affordable housing if they want to attract talent and convince people to move to Wyoming to take jobs here, she said.

“If you want employees to come in and work hard, they can’t be worried about if they’re going to make the mortgage payment,” she said. “They can’t be worried about the food and having to choose between medication and rent. Those are real things that your employees are facing.”

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

in Housing/News/politics
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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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Teton County’s Affordable Housing Crisis Is Case Study For State

in Housing/News
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images
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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
Jen@CowboyStateDaily.com

Local and state government and non-profit entities are scrambling to provide affordable housing in the most expensive zip code in the country, Teton County, Wyoming. An acre of land here sells for around $1 million and the county’s priciest property, a 233-acre ranch, just sold for $35 million.

The severe housing shortage in Teton County has gotten worse in the past decade, according to a March 2022 Teton Region Housing Needs Assessment. Since 2010, jobs have increased twice as much as the number of affordable places to live. Currently, the assessment estimated a need for about 5,300 more housing units in the county by 2027. 

Rental rates in Jackson can range from more than $2,000 a month for a studio apartment to $3,667 per month for three-bedroom units. 

Teton County is at the apex of the affordable housing crisis in Wyoming, but other Wyoming communities are not far behind in the affordable housing crunch.Supply shortages are driving up costs and lessening availability in other Wyoming cities  including Sheridan, Pinedale and Laramie among others. 

By default, the county has become a case study for the rest of the state – for what works and doesn’t work – as the Wyoming Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee meets Friday in Casper. It plans to discuss potentially forming a state-wide housing trust fund.  

What is the solution? Should the state enact a housing authority or trust? Should counties become limited liability companies (LLCs) and business developers? Should local governments subsidize housing through deed restrictions that cap property values and set rent based on income level through private public partnerships with city and county funds and private investors? 

These are among the questions that remain as Teton County and other cities continue to grapple with creative solutions to house workers within the community.

Is Regulation The Answer? 

Some national housing advocates believe government’s well-intended involvement is actually an impediment to providing affordable housing.  

In an Aug. 5 joint letter from the National Apartment Association (NAA) and National Multifamily Housing Council (HMHC) to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, the two authors argued that governmental involvement is crucial to helping to solve the problem but warned about adding yet another layer of regulations to the rental housing market that is already overlaid by strict local and state governmental control.  

Citing a recent survey of national public and private housing professionals, NAA listed the top obstacles impacting municipality development community “not in my backyard” or “NIMBYism” and construction and land costs and availability as well as onerous restrictions.  

“Even in communities that want and desperately need rental housing development, we face hurdles like zoning restrictions, rent control and other onerous local requirements (like building code provisions that have nothing to do with health and safety, land or infrastructure donation requirements and ill-fitting transportation and parking mandates),” the letter stated. 

Together, the study concluded, these measures account for 41% percent of the project cost of providing affordable housing. 

To this end, the two groups warned lawmakers to craft legislation that incentivizes states and localities to reduce barriers, streamline and fast track the rent control entitlement and approval process and provide density bonuses and other incentives to developers to include workforce units among other incentives.

They further encouraged the federal Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act, introduced in June by Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana. That bill aims to help eliminate discriminatory land use policies and remove barriers that depress the production of housing. 

The letter’s authors argue that reducing barriers and streamlining and fast-tracking the entitlement and approval process would better help communities tackle their housing affordability challenges.  

Cutting Red Tape 

The Teton County Commission appears to be taking that advice with its recent 3-2 vote in July to eliminate the sketch plan step for 100% deed-restricted housing projects. 

Deed restrictions cap the value of the property in perpetuity and are regulated by the local housing authority.  

In Jackson and Teton County, deed restrictions require residents to work full-time for a local business or earn 75% of their income locally. Residents are also typically required to sign six-month rental agreements and not own real estate within 150 miles.The rental agreements usually also specify that tenants could not leave the units vacant for two months or longer. 

This change in policy benefits projects such as the Jackson Street Apartments, a 57-unit apartment development in downtown Jackson. The project is an unprecedented private-public partnership between the Cumming Foundation and the Jackson/Teton County Housing Department that together formed a limited liability company (LLC) to provide 100% deed-restricted housing for local residents of varying income levels. The county under the agreement will receive 9 units designated for county employees.  

The project is paid for via a joint donation in private land $11.5 million and an additional cash donation of $10 million in cash from the Cummings Foundation with Teton County funneling in an additional $10 million of public land and county funds.  

Initially, the commission voted unanimously to form the LLC between the county and the private foundation, but ultimately, chose not to sign the operating agreement in May between the two entities after Commissioner Mark Barron raised concerns about the legalities of such a partnership. 

According to Keith Gingery, chief deputy county attorney, the county decided to go a different direction from the LLC because of “legal concerns as to whether that was an appropriate mechanism.”   

Instead, it appointed itself as the “manager” or “conduit” of the LLC. Gingery did not provide an explanation of what exactly that role entails but stated that the housing department has managed other housing projects in which it is primarily responsible for facilitating and terminating leases, maintenance issues and other normal activities of a housing manager. 

As to concerns over transparency of transferring public funds into a private LLC, Gingery said that because the county is managing the project, the records will be open as will “everything occurring with the funds and land.” 

Gingery dismissed concerns that oversight might draw the county into lawsuits should the LLC be sued.  

“[The] county still has some protections under the Wyoming Governmental Claim Act, but you are right that potentially a slip and fall or other kind of case could come up,” Gingery wrote to Cowboy State Daily. “The LLC will have adequate insurance to cover any claims just like any other housing development.” 

The nine-building, 65,888-square-foot project will be completed in four stages with an anticipated finish date of September 2024, according to the project website.  

Vision For Largest Affordable Housing Development In 30 Years Ekes Forward

Several other housing projects are also currently in the works. 

One of those is the Northern South Park Area on 225 acres off S. Highway 89 and High School Road, south of the Cottonwood subdivision in Jackson. The county is considering allowing development on land owned by Robert Gill and family and Kelly and Elizabeth Lockhart and family.

In July, the Teton County Commission voted unanimously to adopt the Northern South Park Neighborhood vision plan, which would develop up to 1,800 units, 70% of which would be deed restricted and 30% unrestricted or free-market units.  

The last time a development with more than 40 small lots was approved was the Cottonwood Subdivision in 1985.  

The Gill family initially submitted its own zoning application to the county in early 2020 to develop 65% deed-restricted housing and 35% free-market units on 74 acres with no public subsidies. This application was rejected by both the county commissioners and the planning commission. Instead, the county commission voted to contract out a study for a comprehensive vision plan of the private land. 

The contract was awarded to a Berkeley, California, firm which took just under two years to complete at a cost of around $427,000.   

Since 2015, the county has spent more than $1.3 million for various zoning and planning studies, according to figures provided by Ryan Hostetter, principal long-range planner, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Cowboy State Daily. 

The California firm completed its vision study with a neighborhood plan in April, recommending a mix of 70% deed-restricted and 30% market.  

The next steps are to craft the draft zoning language for public hearings, including a review by the planning commission and commissioners, according to Chris Neubecker, Teton County director of planning and building services. 

Neubecker said the creation and adoption of zoning will take about nine months, and the review process for sketch plan and development plan could take another year for a total of about two years before breaking ground on the first stage of the project. 

“Once the zoning tools and language are created and adopted in the Land Development Regulations, the landowners can apply to rezone their property,” Neubecker said in an email. “With new zoning in place, landowners can apply for sketch plan and development plan approvals, as well as subdivision of the land.” 

The process itself could potentially be a problem for one of the landowners.  

In commenting on the neighborhood plan overall, Kelly Lockhart expressed his dismay to commissioners in a March letter. He wrote that he and his family do not feel like partners in the planning process. 

“In our opinion, housing in South Park is relatively simple. If you want housing in South Park, you should zone for it,” he wrote. “If you do not want housing in South Park, then just say that. Many of the maps floating around regarding our property in South Park are prescriptive and don’t work for us.” 

Nikki Gill has indicated that her family is sticking the course.  

Under this timeline, Gill said during a commission meeting that a shovel won’t go in the ground until 2026, and she asked that the zoning rules “be expedient, fair and rational for housing, now.” 

Both the Gills and Lockharts have expressed what a hard decision it was to develop on their family’s land, but both said they are committed to helping the community tackle its affordable housing shortage. 

Gill told Cowboy State Daily she’s seen many of her friends forced to move or make long commutes and is concerned about the impact on the community and would like to see the project move forward as quickly as possible.  

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Only Two Homes In Jackson Under $1 Million; Real Estate Prices Doubled In Last 18 Months

in Housing/News
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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Real estate prices have more than doubled in Teton County in the past 18 months and properties selling for less than $1 million are increasingly rare in the county’s limited housing inventory, according to a report by a Jackson real estate company.

Prugh Real Estate, in a report on real estate conditions in the first quarter of the year, said of the county’s 39 active residential listings, only two have an asking price of less than $1 million. The next least expensive 13 properties are on the market for from $1 million to $3 million. 

The residential property with the highest sale price currently on the market tops the $19 million mark.

In his 20 years of selling, Greg Prugh, broker and owner of Prugh Real Estate, said this is the lowest inventory he’s seen at such high prices.

Where last year a three-bedroom condo in Jackson sold for $775,000, the same property today was just sold for $1.5 million, Prugh said. His own house in downtown Jackson has more than quadrupled in value in the eight years since it was built.

The housing shortage is not a new situation, Prugh said, but the current shortage exacerbates a growing problem in supply and demand identified by a new Teton Region Housing Needs Assessment. 

The assessment, which looked into the housing needs of Teton County and surrounding communities of Teton County, Idaho and northern Lincoln County, identified an estimated need for about 5,300 new affordable housing units to address anticipated demand through 2027.

Despite a handful of new housing projects, the community is nowhere close to meeting that demand.

“We’ve always had a housing problem,” Prugh said, “but it’s more acute today.”

Influx of Out-of-State Buyers

Prugh said a dramatic increase in the housing sales occurred in March 2020 when panic buyers – mostly from other states such as California, New York, Texas and Florida – began gobbling up properties, buying at a much faster pace than had been seen before.

According to the input from local realtors included in the March housing assessment, many of these properties were purchased as second homes or “safe havens” to ride out the pandemic as work-from-home policies made it possible to live and work anywhere.

The influx of out-of-state buyers far outpaced local buyers, according to the report.

By the same token, locals took advantage of market dynamics and sold their local properties to purchase homes on the Idaho side of Tetonn Pass, many paying for these homes in cash.

However, rising home prices in Teton County predate the pandemic and can be traced back to 2015.

On average, housing prices have been rising by 16% per year since 2015 for single-family homes and 9% per year for attached condominiums and townhomes.

A more significant leap was seen in more recent years.

Between 2019 to 2020, the price for a median single-family home has jumped 44% — 27% for condominiums and townhomes, the report said.

In the first 10 months of 2021, the median sale price of a condo or townhome was $422,000 while the price for a single-family home averaged around $750,000.

The prices, combined with limited supply, have made purchasing a home below $1 million nearly impossible for many locals in Teton County and surrounding areas.

Changing Dynamic

Prugh said he is conflicted about the current market. While he and his firm have profited from 30 deals in the first quarter, he said it’s a bittersweet situation.

“We are happy, but we don’t know what the second quarter looks like,” he said. “It’s like eating all your Halloween candy in one setting. It tastes sweet and good but you’re going to get a stomach ache immediately following.”

Part of his discomfort is knowing that every sale drives someone else out of the valley where he was born and raised.

“I worry about the service providers, the guy who changes your tire and the nurse with a family whose rent just went from $3,000 to $5,000 a month,” Prugh said. “We have to protect our local population.”

The current housing shortage implies a larger problem in the future — what happens to Jackson when all the locals have been pushed out and the town no longer has restaurants, coffee shops and local businesses because service workers cannot afford to live in Jackson. It’s not good for the locals or tourists, Prugh said.

“You have to worry that Jackson becomes a cruise ship in the future,” he said. “People come to Jackson because they want to meet locals. They don’t go to meet other tourists. They are coming to experience Jackson and the community. We need both the working and leisure class.”

Teton Commissioners Reverse Course, Approve WYDOT Employee Housing Request

in Housing
17489

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The Teton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a Wyoming Department of Transportation request for a zoning change that will allow the department to build employee housing on its land in Jackson.

The agency has proposed building 28 residential units on its 14.4-acre site to house highway patrol troopers, snowplow drivers and other staff in the Hog Island area to better serve the community. Currently, more than half of the department’s 36 employees live outside Teton County due to high housing costs and a lack of vacancies, according to department Director Luke Reiner.

WYDOT’s zoning request was initially rejected unanimously by the Teton County’s planning commission in December. Among the concerns voiced by the commission were the fact that the Hog Island neighborhood is currently in the midst of being rezoned. Without knowing what impact those zoning changes might have, commissioners said they were hesitant to make a decision on WYDOT’s request.

In an earlier interview with Cowboy State Daily, Chris Neubecker, director of planning and building services for Teton County, said that the commission also had concerns about traffic and water quality as well as the size and scope of the project.

Speaking to the board on Tuesday morning, Keith Compton, WYDOT district engineer, reiterated the advantage that on-site housing would have in recruiting and retaining employees.

He also noted the housing would address some safety concerns stemming from having so many department employees live outside the county.

Compton pointed specifically to the nine highway troopers for the area, only one of whom lives in Teton County. The rest live in communities such as Afton and Victor, Idaho, despite statewide policy that requires employees to live within 10 miles of their duty station. 

Teton is the one county in the state, Compton said, where the department has had to modify those rules to stretch the boundaries to accommodate troopers living beyond that 10-mile limit.

“This creates problems for troopers in terms of after-hours response in Teton County,” he said. “Response times (now are) about an hour-and-a-half on a good day and roughly two hours in bad weather depending upon which troopers are called out.”

Having workers in-county, he added, would improve those response times of troopers and snowplow drivers to arrive at accident scenes quickly to help victims in vehicle accidents and also prevent further crashed by more quickly clearing the roadways from debris and other hazards.

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