Jackson Hole officials are preparing to travel over 400 miles next weekend to testify on a bill that could unravel Teton County’s affordable housing program.
It’s the third year such a bill has been considered in the Wyoming Legislature. It would prohibit local governments from requiring developers to build or pay for workforce housing, tools Teton County has used since 1994. Instead the bill favors “incentive-based programs.”
Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, sponsored the bill (House Bill 277) during last year’s legislative session, but it didn’t make it to a hearing on the House floor. She’s introducing the same bill again this year, to be discussed Monday by the Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee.
“The goal is to create a statewide policy that stops harmful overregulation and burden by local governments,” Duncan wrote in an email to the News&Guide.
Duncan said she decided to pursue the legislation after several people — none from Teton County, she said — reached out to her, concerned about overreach and regulations preventing private housing development. Wyoming statutes are silent on housing exactions, and a statewide policy is needed, she said.
“There are housing shortages and affordability across our state,” Duncan wrote. “We cannot tax our way out of this crisis. We must be innovative through incentives and creativity. There need to be experts at the table with experience in this, versus people trying to tax and restrict growth on the businesses.”
In summer 2018 Teton County elected officials voted to hike the requirements for how much developers, especially commercial developers, must pay for housing. Many members of the business community protested the change, saying it would spell doom for small “mom and pops.”
Jackson was selected as the location for a September corporations committee meeting after being at the center about heated debates over local control last session.
House Bill 277 wasn’t on the state committee’s agenda for its Jackson meeting, but as the lawmakers wrapped up their meeting at the library, Duncan asked the committee to revive the bill. Members voted to bring House Bill 277 back for consideration at a November meeting in Cheyenne.
During the meeting, Duncan cited “testimony” from a lunch with advocacy group Jackson Hole Working as a reason for bringing back the bill. In an email to the News&Guide, Duncan said she planned to bring the bill forward again anyway during the regular session, but after the lunch with JH Working and several general public comments from locals, she “saw the opportunity to request the bill back onto the table to have a discussion and dialogue.”
Local elected officials expressed frustration that the housing issue wasn’t given more time during the Jackson meeting. The Jackson Town Council sent an Oct. 22 letter to the corporations committee asking state lawmakers to respect local control over affordable housing policy.
“While the housing exaction rates should and will be updated, our community firmly believes in local control, that we should continue to have access to the tool and that Teton County residents should retain the right to decide for ourselves what those rates should be,” the letter states. “Therefore, we respectfully request that you honor Teton County voters’ desire to make local decisions locally.”
Ted Staryk, Jackson Hole Working chairman, said some of the group’s members will travel to Cheyenne, supporting passage of the bill in the committee. Teton County’s housing requirements for commercial development, he said, “are a significant barrier to small business, redevelopment and entrepreneurship” and are failing to produce housing.
The group supports “real solutions that incentivize the building of housing.”