County commissioners narrowly rejected a request for $25,000 to help fund startup costs for a new workforce housing program.
The Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, is seeking to create a new “gap” housing program aimed at building housing for families that earn too much money to qualify for affordable units but not enough to buy free-market units.
“As the cost of construction continues to escalate in our community, we know this program will be a part of every Housing Trust project going forward,” said Anne Cresswell, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We know the demand and the need for this housing type exists.”
The idea is by reserving 15% to 25% of units in future housing projects as gap housing for higher-income households, the Housing Trust will be able to minimize public or philanthropic subsidies required for a project.
“Revenues in an affordable housing project always fall short of expenses to get housing in the ground,” Cresswell said. “This is one way we can increase project revenues without going to donors or taxpayers to do so.”
Cresswell said the gap housing program would create new units for current affordable-home owners to move into, freeing up lower-income units.
But because the Housing Trust is a nonprofit, its tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service requires it to fulfill its “charitable purpose” by providing housing for families earning less than 120% of area median income.
To launch the new program for gap housing — intended to serve those earning between 120% and 175% of median income — the Housing Trust needs to create a new arm to its organization, such as an LLC affiliated with the Housing Trust’s existing 501(c)(3), Cresswell said.
That’s why the nonprofit approached the county for funding to go toward legal support, program management and outreach and communications for the new gap housing arm.
“Really, it’s simply a startup cost we’re looking at,” Cresswell told commissioners. “We need to have the legal infrastructure in place so we can legally sell these homes to households that earn more than 120% of area median income.”
The town of Jackson already approved $25,000 in general funding for the Housing Trust this year, and the trust won a $3,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, Cresswell said.
The Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department launched a similar program of its own in the last year, Housing Director April Norton said. The department’s “workforce housing” program restricts homes for full-time workers, regardless of their income.
Norton said 15% of working households in Teton County fall into the category that could benefit from gap housing.
Households must earn 200% to 250% of median income to be able to afford a market home. For example, Norton said, to be able to afford the median-price home in town at $1.08 million, a household would need to earn $300,000 a year.
In a staff report, Norton supported the Housing Trust’s request: “While this program is duplicative in nature, staff finds value in providing start up support to a ‘gap’ program through a private partner.”
She also wrote that the Housing Trust’s gap housing program would allow the town and county housing department to focus more on lower-income households and would reduce the nonprofit’s need for town and county subsidies to build housing in the future.
Commissioners Luther Propst and Mark Newcomb supported the funding allocation in a vote Monday.
“I think we need a wide range of tools,” Propst said.
Commissioners Natalia Macker and Mark Barron voted against it. Commissioner Greg Epstein was absent.
Macker said she was concerned about duplicating the efforts of the county’s Housing Department, using public funds for the Housing Trust’s attorney fees, and a lack of clarity about the gap housing program’s future operational costs.
Cresswell said she was surprised and disappointed with the county board’s decision.
“We remain committed that this is an essential piece of housing our community,” she said. “We will find the money irrespective of the county decision on this issue.”