When Housing Director April Norton presented a housing supply plan to county commissioners and town councilors last week, it painted a picture of massive challenges facing both her department and elected officials.
However, Norton did express some optimism and pointed to certain programs in place, along with public-private partnerships, that may help the community overcome some of those housing challenges.
At the May 2 joint information meeting between commissioners and councilors, Norton detailed where the town and county currently stand in terms of housing the local workforce and gave a glimpse into the future, including what the area’s housing needs will look like in coming years.
For example, Norton pointed out that for the last few years, the area has stayed pretty steady with about 60% of the local workforce being housed locally. That figure falls just shy of elected officials’ goal of housing 65% of the workforce locally, but Norton said the number has been consistent, though it seems to have stagnated at 60%.
Looking ahead, however, Norton said about 5,000 new jobs are expected to be created in Teton County, which will create a need for approximately 2,000 new workforce housing units. And those units are increasingly difficult to come by as property values continue to soar across the county.
Norton explained that there are currently 1,313 permanently deed-restricted homes in Teton County, with another 85 expected to come online in 2022. There are also 249 dorm beds, with 14 being added this year.
“But despite record-setting production levels, our Housing Needs Assessment told us that we actually need to increase our production by four times to maintain our 60% resident workforce,” Norton said.
Contributing to the strain, Norton said, is the fact that much of the market-rate housing that was formerly affordable for workforce making the median income is now well out of reach. She pointed to a few areas around the community — Rafter J, Cottonwood and Melody Ranch — where market workforce housing was attainable, but prices have skyrocketed, as they have across the whole county.
In Rafter J, for example, there long used to be market-rate workforce homes, “but last year the median sale price was almost $2 million,” she said. Specifically, the median sale price in Rafter J in 2021 was $1.95 million, and the least expensive home sold there last year went for just over $1 million.
Further, between 2007 and 2021, the median home price in the county rose by 168%, while the median income only rose by 65%.
“That’s a big gap between the two,” Norton said. “Most households earning the median income cannot afford the market.”
In asking Norton about housing mitigation rates and the fees being collected on commercial and residential development from that tool, Commissioner Mark Newcomb said, “The difference is so stark between the number of less-than-market houses that need to be built and the amount of funding that is, in my view, trickling in.”
In simple terms, the town and county’s housing mitigation program operates under the assumption that new development creates new jobs and, consequently, more demand for housing. To offset that impact, the mitigation rates require developers of commercial and residential properties to build affordable housing or pay local government a fee to do so.
For example, in calculating residential housing mitigation rates, factors such as the type of housing being built, how much money the buyers of that housing make and spend in the local economy, and, thus, how many and what types of jobs are created by that spending.
Commercial mitigation rates look at the type of commercial development and other factors in determining how many jobs will be created by a particular land use and how much the jobs being generated will pay, among other factors.
In addition to mitigation rates, Norton told commissioners and councilors about the various tools the Jackson/Teton County Housing Department has at hand to help meet the area’s workforce housing needs. Those tools include regulatory measures like mitigation rates, partnership opportunities like working with for-profit and nonprofit developers, the housing preservation program and the town’s accessory residential unit program.
She also noted that private employers across Teton County are helping to build workforce housing stock to meet their own needs to house employees.
“Two-thousand units is not only [the responsibility of the] town and county,” Norton said. “Nor should it be.”
Commissioner Mark Barron pointed to the housing department’s cost-efficiency when developing new workforce units, with the cost averaging about $145,000 per unit since 2016.
“I know, it makes me feel really good,” Norton said of the department’s ability to produce housing at such a price, which she told Barron does include the cost of land, though she noted that the average price is likely to rise a bit due to spiking land values.