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Condos drive shortage

By Michael Polhamus, Jackson Hole Daily
August 30, 2013

While it might not come as a surprise to many, a study has concluded that Teton County has a housing problem.

“The data is clear there is a housing affordability problem in Teton County and the town of Jackson, to the point that few members of the workforce can reasonably afford market-priced housing,” concludes the study, prepared by Clarion Associates of Denver and released by the Teton County Housing Authority last week.

More than just a data-based statement of the obvious, the study, titled “Employee Generation by Land Use,” provides a legal basis for affordable housing exactions the county requires of developers.

“[L]arge condominiums owned by non-locals generate the greatest number of full-time year-round employees,” the study states.

The study also shows that nonresidential uses of land — such as retail, restaurant and office space — generate a need for employees much greater than that caused by residences. And it shows that of the 272 residential units sold on the free market in 2008, not one was priced for a family earning the median county income.

“The age-old problem we have in Jackson Hole, that’s never going to go away, is we have extremely constrained supply” of housing, said Anne Cresswell, Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust executive director, “and we have a global demand — people who want to move here from all over the country and all over the world and can afford to do so.”

This disparity between supply and demand has led Teton County to hold back the invisible hand of the market and to force developers to subsidize worker housing. Without such subsidies, Jackson Hole’s workers at some point would have no choice but to live elsewhere.

The drawbacks to this are many, such as environmental impacts, a lower-quality workforce and lack of investment in the community, said Cresswell.

Cresswell’s organization is a private nonprofit. Christine Walker, the director of the county agency Teton County Housing Authority, was unavailable at press time.

“The community character suffers when people’s hearts and souls and family are over the hill,” Cresswell said. “The community always said, ‘We want to be a community first and a resort second.’ ”

To require developers to subsidize affordable housing for Jackson Hole’s workers, local governments must show that developers cause the need for those workers. In fact, due to a handful of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, localities must show that there exists “rough proportionality” and an “essential nexus” between the amount of affordable housing compensation they require from developers and the need for affordable housing the developments create.

The Teton County Housing Authority commissioned the housing nexus study to provide that legal basis for affordable housing exactions.

The study is only the most recent one done on Teton County. They must periodically be updated to ensure the nexus and proportionality remain current, Cresswell said.

The study also finds that workers began to get priced out of the real estate market in Jackson Hole starting in 1986.

To afford a median-price home in Teton County, a family must bring home a quarter of a million dollars a year. But three-quarters of new jobs added to the Jackson Hole economy are in accommodation and food services — the lowest-paying industry in the county. Employees in these jobs make up 35 percent of Jackson Hole’s workers, and they’re paid an average of $24,000 per year.

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