As people’s financial worries pile up countywide, landlord and lifelong valley resident Bonnie Budge has given her tenants a bit of relief.
She forgave April rent for the 35 people living in the mobile home park she’s owned on Cache Creek Drive since 1986.
“I just wanted to do something to help them out,” Budge, 88, said of her tenants, many of whom work in the service industry that’s borne the brunt of COVID-19 layoffs.
“I felt like they needed some help and that was one way I could do it.”
Pedro Ayala, a 10-or-so-year resident of the park, is a finish carpenter. He helps Budge with maintenance around the property — fixing roofs, replacing carpets and the like — but said he’s been out of work for almost two months. He was sick for two weeks and wasn’t able to find much work for two weeks afterward. When he finally got something lined up, everything around town shut down.
“It put me in a tough spot financially,” Ayala said. But getting a bit of relief on rent, he said, will help him to “survive another month.”
“Whatever helps helps,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Budge has lent a hand to her tenants. In 2019, she fought a 1,100% spike in property taxes that would have passed along to renters.
“I really have a good bunch of people,” she said.
Forgiving April rent put her about $23,000 in the hole, Budge said.
“I’m very, very happy that I can do that,” she said.
Ayala and others who live in the park said they enjoy doing so. Resident Karen Lisenby described it as a quiet place to live, where “everybody’s conscious of everybody else.”
Plus, it’s a relatively affordable place to live that’s close to town, saving people like Lisenby, a secretary in the emergency room at St. John’s Health, from commuting from Star Valley or Teton Valley, Idaho.
“Affordable housing is at a minimum, and it’s not affordable anymore,” Lisenby said. “But this is.”
Budge, as she described it, was born “in the shadow of the Grand Teton” in a log cabin about 17 miles from Jackson and grew up on a ranch during the Great Depression. Budge doesn’t remember those times being particularly difficult — she was just a kid, she said.
But her granddaughter, Stacy Saunders, said her grandma’s decision to help out her tenants was in keeping with grit she’s developed throughout her 88 years.
“My grandma and grandpa were both raised here. They know what it’s like to struggle, and a lot of her tenants have been there a long time,” Saunders said. “She knows a lot of them and their families and their kids, and they’re all a lot of hardworking people.
“I’m always proud to have her as my grandma,” she added.