Faced with the choice between funding affordable housing for the community at large or housing for its own employees, the Town Council chose to do neither. Instead, it came up with a more flexible solution.
The Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department is requesting $1 million to create affordable housing units. But with law enforcement officers and other essential staff already struggling to live in Teton County, some elected officials preferred to give preference to those town employees.
“I think it’s incumbent on us,” Councilor Jim Stanford said, “to follow through on something we said was a priority, and that I think is really going to be a significant investment that will pay dividends for the Town of Jackson for years to come.”
He argued that with about $5.7 million in the affordable housing fund, and with housing projects already underway at King Street, Mercill Avenue and West Kelly Street, the endeavor to provide cheap dwellings for the average citizen is looking healthy. With that in mind, he said, the town should divert more money to retaining its critical employees.
Stanford suggested placing the money directly into the town’s employee housing fund, which holds about $1.1 million as of now, where it could go toward the first steps of building high-density ownership units on Flat Creek Drive. Even then, if the Affordable Housing Department were to propose a “really compelling opportunity,” the money could be transferred from one fund to the other, he said.
But some councilors worried that it would be difficult to move the money around quickly, potentially jeopardizing urgent affordable housing opportunities. So the council may skirt both the affordable and employee housing funds and stow the $1 million in the capital budget — essentially reserving it to be divvied up later on, as it becomes clear which housing projects appear most promising.
As officials work toward the goal of housing 65% of the town and county’s workforce, everything counts, said Housing Director April Norton. She said she doesn’t differentiate much between public servants and the general populace.
“At the end of the day, housing for town employees is housing for the community,” she said.
The council will finalize its budget for fiscal year 2020 at a 9 a.m. meeting Monday at Town Hall, then approve it at a 6 p.m. meeting later that evening.