Local efforts to provide affordable housing are again threatened by proposed legislation that would remove the authority of towns and counties to require developers to pay a fee or build affordable housing.
House Bill 277 would essentially undermine Teton County’s program for making homes accessible to low-income workers. Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, said Monday he hadn’t yet read the bill, which was introduced that morning, but was “already working on killing it.”
“There are a number of bills that are related to ... the pre-emption of local governments,” he said, “and I would consider this one to be the most detrimental.”
Teton County and the town of Jackson significantly increased mitigation rates in July, requiring developers to create housing for a percentage of the employees generated by their projects or pay a fee in lieu of building homes. Job growth has outpaced housing growth for years, and the goal is to balance the two.
Some have complained the requirements are too onerous, especially for entrepreneurs and small mom-and-pop stores, and would instead favor large chains over homegrown businesses.
Three of the 10 local elected officials — Don Frank and Bob Lenz on the Town Council, and Greg Epstein on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners — opposed the mitigation rates.Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, sponsored the bill. She wrote in an email that housing regulations “harm small businesses and hinder economic development.”
“House Bill 277,” she wrote, “ensures the private sector can continue to meet housing demands without unreasonable barriers and increased costs.”
The bill originated in the 2018 legislative session, apparently born out of Teton County’s and Jackson’s debates over housing mitigation. At the time, the proposed rate was for 100 percent of full-time, year-round employees who can't afford market-rate housing, though officials settled on less-demanding requirements.
The language in the bill is virtually unchanged from last year, when it failed by a 2-3 vote in the Joint Corporations Committee.
The bill would still allow towns and counties to create incentives for developers to build affordable housing. For example, Jackson offers additional height and density to those who build one square foot of deed-restricted housing for every two square feet of market-rate housing.
“We should be ... encouraging the development of the necessary infrastructure to house our workforce and their families,” Duncan wrote, “not forcing it through government intrusion.”
But many argue those kinds of bonuses aren’t enough to achieve the level of affordable housing Teton County needs if it wants to meet the target of housing 65 percent of workers locally.
Without the power to manage its own housing regulations, Schwartz said, Teton County would largely be restricted to building affordable homes with funding from the specific purpose excise tax, which voters can designate for particular projects. But that money can’t go exclusively toward housing, he said, “because we have other needs.”
“The town and the county are going to have to figure out, if this legislation passes, how they move forward with an affordable housing program,” Schwartz said.
Several other bills would chip away at local control, especially in Teton County.
The most notable is Senate File 49, which arose from the Jackson Hole Classical Academy’s fight to build a school that does not satisfy rural zoning regulations. It would grant private schools the same exemptions from county zoning that public schools receive. The bill passed the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives.
Another piece of legislation from Duncan, House Bill 196, could undermine rural planning efforts by removing county regulations over the family subdivision exemption. It passed the House Corporations Committee unanimously.
House Bill 51, which has been in the Agriculture Committee since early last week, would remove county authority over fencing regulations. Teton County requires certain fences to be “wildlife friendly” to allow migration.
Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect that the originally proposed housing mitigation rate was for 100 percent of full-time, year-round employees who could not afford market-rate housing; and that Jackson, not Teton County, offers an incentive for deed-restricted housing.