The future of the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust’s latest project continues to hang in the balance.
On Monday the Town Council voted to continue its discussion of whether it should provide $2.1 million to the Housing Trust so that it can break ground this fall on what until last week was called the Redmond Street Rentals — before it was decided it would make a better for-sale project.
With the money the trust said it could begin developing a 26-unit complex made up of entirely deed-restricted ownership units, with the possibility of converting some back to rentals in the future.
There was a recommendation from an oversight committee that the Housing Trust wait until spring to break ground on the $12 million project in east Jackson, providing the town and Housing Trust additional time to raise funds and competitively bid contracts. But the Housing Trust decided that it would continue with its plan to begin construction before the snow falls.
But to overcome a $6 million shortfall the trust has considered converting all 26 units from rentals to ownership, which would enable it to recapture its capital much faster and pay off the debt.
“In this housing emergency it strikes us, our staff and board of directors, that it’s less important what kind of housing we build and most important that we continue to make progress on our community housing problem,” said Anne Cresswell, Housing Trust executive director. “Either kind of housing, rental or ownership, will help us alleviate significant housing stress on our workforce.
“I want to emphasize that we are not closing the door on rental housing and the possibility that additional funding will support, either partially or in whole, this project as a rental project, but right now the capital investment required for this to be entirely affordable rentals is not possible. ”
The proposal to convert the project from rentals to ownership is exactly what delayed the Town Council’s decision.
“Rental is what motivated my support of this project,” said Councilor Don Frank. “All of our consultants have told us it is rental stock that we need. … Rentals are more fluid on occupancy, they’re more mobile for people as their life circumstances change, and there’s flexibility that allows us to serve more people. Ownership is wonderful, but it ties up a lot of public money to benefit fewer people.”
If the Housing Trust receives the $2.1 million subsidy from the town and is able to break ground next month, the trust estimated that the subsidy will be less than $170,000 per unit — the lowest it has seen since 2003 when it developed 28 units on East Kelly Street. The next closest was $225,000.
The oversight committee believes that waiting until the spring could actually result in more savings.
“We continue to believe that it is useful to have construction drawings and put them out for bid in the winter, when there’s less competition, and then try and break ground next year,” said Donald Opatrny of the oversight committee. “That is likely to afford savings. … Where there is taxpayers’ money in this project there is some obligation to be sure you’re putting it out for a full bid.”
Ultimately no decision was made as the council expressed a desire to meet with the oversight committee and go over the ownership proposal in more detail before finalizing a deal.
“My hesitation today is not closing the door on this project, or on public-private partnerships,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said. “We have to move cautiously so this project succeeds and future public private partnerships succeed.”
The next Town Council meeting is Aug. 15. If the oversight committee can meet with the council sooner, Mayor Sara Flitner said they would schedule a special council meeting to make their decision as soon as possible.
“I’m going to rely on another set of conversations with the oversight committee who were put in place to help ensure that the public investment indeed equates with the value that we’re after at the end of the day,” Flitner said. “These things are much more complicated when you get into the details. … Sentimentally I’d love to just say yes, but obviously we are no position to be able to do that with the public’s money.”