Breath-taking views of the Tetons grace this month’s cover of High Country News, a monthly publication focusing on news in the West. The reason for the cover story “Paradise at a Price”? Affordable Housing. Jackson Hole is a unique place, where conservation goals and a desire to maintain the town’s “Western small town character”, often collide with the need for affordable housing for the community’s workforce. With over 97% of the land in Teton County publicly owned (by federal, state or local government agencies), traditional solutions of sprawl and new development are not an option. This can be a good thing, many conservationists argue, as much of the land is permanently protected from development. The problem? Many of Jackson’s workers cannot afford to live here. In Jackson Hole, the average sales price of a home is around $1,000,000, which is 10x the average income of the County. During the housing boom, as many as 1/3 of Jackson’s work force lived in bedroom communities and commuted over Teton Pass or through the Snake River Canyon.
The article discusses the South Park neighborhood in particular. Over the past many years, advocates of affordable housing have proposed various affordable housing projects in this area, located about 5 minutes south of Jackson. Neighbors, conservationists and other opponents were able to kill all proposals, citing negative effects to large-scale development including car-dependent sprawl, and intrusion on wildlife habitat, a core value in Jackson Hole. Supporters point to the existing utilities, good access and existing development as reasons that make South Park the perfect location for new development. The debate continued in over 40 public meetings associated with the re-write of the Town and County Comprehensive Plan. The new plan proposed South Park as an area for dense development, however after residents and conservationists rebelled against the plan, it was paired down calling for small pockets of affordable housing scattered throughout several different neighborhoods.
The article also outlines the three main players in Jackson Hole trying to address the growing need for affordable housing through deed restricted homes – the Teton Housing Authority, the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity. These homes are much cheaper than market rate homes as they are subsidized by the County, developers and local non-profits. However they amount to only a fraction of the homes here and require a thorough application process and long waiting lists or many attempts through a lottery system.
As the Jackson Hole real estate market heats up as we enter the busy summer selling season (See June Market Report), affordable market rate homes are moving farther out of reach for many middle-class working families (There are currently only 3 single family homes in Jackson priced under $500,000). There is no doubt the debate with continue as the Jackson Hole community strives to balance the scenic beauty and wildlife habitat with the growing need for affordable and attainable housing.