At the center of Jackson’s efforts to provide homes for local workers, there are two housing projects. In the past month both have become mired in political and financial complications.
Now elected officials are in search of backup plans for the embattled projects, one on Kelly Avenue and one on King Street. But there is mounting anxiety over the uncertainty of the situation, and the status of both remains unclear.
“Right now, everyone is left hanging,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said at a meeting on Monday. “Neighbors are left hanging, developers are left hanging, we’re left hanging.”
The first blow came in July when the developer for 174 N. King St. was again denied the low-income tax credits the proposal relied on, setting the schedule back for the second time. Then, later that month, the council and Board of County Commissioners failed to reach agreement on the best design for 440 W. Kelly Ave., leading to a stalemate.
With the two projects stalled, somewhere in the realm of 40-45 units of affordable and workforce housing are stuck in limbo. Aware that Teton County’s affordable housing shortage isn’t abating, the Town Council tried to find solutions, but ended with mostly open questions.
Part of the problem stems from the town and county’s joint ownership of the property on Kelly. The majority of councilors supported a dense 16-unit building on the site, but the commissioners voted against it amid concerted opposition from neighbors.
That leaves officials with a few options, which the council considered Monday. Only two potential courses appear to have the requisite amount of support: buying out the county and moving ahead with the denser building, or conceding to a more politically feasible design of 12 or fewer units.
Those smaller variants could still be designed with the same number of bedrooms as the 16-unit version, which Jorgensen suggested is the more important metric and may have a less severe impact on the neighborhood.
Only Mayor Pete Muldoon opposed the concept outright, and adamantly so. He criticized his fellow elected officials in the town and county for not maximizing housing opportunities, saying he would not support fewer than 16 units and is “barely capable of supporting 16,” which still undershoots the development allowed under the block’s NH-1 zoning.
“It’s past the time where we can continue to say that we support affordable housing, yet we will not approve affordable housing when it’s presented to us,” he said. “Why are we here if we’re not willing to do it?”
Without the county’s cooperation, however, the council is powerless. Councilors took no official vote Monday, and will instead wait for the next joint meeting with the commissioners to pursue either of the likeliest options.
As for the King Street project, the Wyoming Community Development Authority has twice rejected its application for tax credits, an essential funding source to ensure the 30 proposed units are affordable to those in Teton County’s lowest income range. After two failed attempts, the project is months behind with no guarantee of success.
The project earned the highest score of any in the state, except in the cost category. Construction is far more expensive in Teton County than the rest of Wyoming, making tax credits an iffy proposition for Jackson developers.
Westmount Development has submitted a revised proposal for the project, offering several new tacks. So has the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, which was second in line for the project when it was first approved in early 2018.
Despite its fruitless pursuit of tax credits so far, Westmount has again pitched that as one potential choice. Housing Director April Norton called that a “huge risk,” but the developers don’t seem to have ruled it out.
“With each round of applying we’ve gotten more and more attuned to what the state’s looking for,” said Latham Jenkins, a local real estate broker who spoke on behalf of the Connecticut developer. “We’re narrowing in on hopefully what it’s going to cost to get this approved.”
Westmount and elected officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the Wyoming Community Development Authority’s criteria, which some argue all but exclude Teton County. But Jenkins said they’re hopeful the third try will convince the authority.
“We believe that our continued pressure to educate those making this decision is one that could potentially win their confidence,” he said.
Westmount’s other funding options would bypass the uncertainty of tax credits, but would also require anywhere from $2.8 to $3.5 million in public subsidies, and may or may not serve the lowest income range as originally planned.
To raise more money for subsidies, Norton said the town could sell its portion of the Kelly property, or other properties on Flat Creek Drive, each of which is worth about $800,000.
The Housing Trust’s new submission is identical to its first, with 24 ownership units tailored to a mix of income ranges, generally higher than Westmount’s. The proposal would require $3.4 million in public subsidy, but Director Anne Cresswell said she is confident the Housing Trust can raise about $2 million through private philanthropy.
“To me that’s really compelling,” Councilor Jim Stanford said. “I think the Housing Trust proposal is a clear way to go.”
His colleagues, however, argued that they and town staff need more time to consider both proposals. They will revisit them at the next council meeting, likely on Sept. 3.
“I would feel more comfortable if we could have a little more detail,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said.
Cresswell emphasized that for the Housing Trust to break ground by spring, the council would need to reach a conclusion within the next few weeks, and the sooner the better. Design work and other preparations will take all the intervening time.