Jackson Hole, WY News

Dozens of long-term tenants have been forced out of a dilapidated motel on North Cache Street because the building was deemed unsafe by the owner, the Bank of Jackson Hole.

Residents of the Pioneer Motel reported regular power outages and, at times, no running water.

The bank had been warning people for months that they would have to move soon because of the motel’s condition. Chief Executive Pete Lawton said there were a variety of code violations.

“It’s truly a safety issue,” Lawton said.

Social workers from the Community Resource Center helped some of the displaced people over the past few weeks and said the motel was potentially dangerous for tenants.

“A lot of them didn’t have electricity,” said Carmina Oaks, a case manager with the nonprofit. “Some of them were telling me they had holes in the floor. Others didn’t get water all the time.”

The tenants, who were all Latino, have been scrambling to find places to stay. Some landed with family members, Oaks said, while others found rooms in other motels.

The Pioneer, which was built in 1958, has 25 units spread out through several buildings and is located just blocks from upscale hotels and Jackson’s historic Town Square. Some of the motel rooms have broken window panes that are covered with plastic.

While the conditions weren’t ideal, some tenants said they didn’t mind the motel because of the low rent. And given Jackson Hole’s housing shortage, it at least offered a roof to sleep under.

“We were OK because even though it was small we still had a place to stay,” said 17-year-old resident Abigail Hernandez.

She lived in a room with her parents and 15-year-old brother. The parents shared a bed while the siblings each had their own mattress on the floor. At one point the electricity was out for a month, so the family ran an extension cord through the window to get power, said Laura Retamoza, Hernandez’s mother.

The family was able to find a room at the Flat Creek Inn for $800 a month. Retamoza prefers the new room because it is more comfortable and has consistent electricity and water, even though it costs more than the $570 they paid at the Pioneer.

Former tenants of the Pioneer Motel are just the latest casualties in Jackson Hole’s housing shortage. Earlier this year residents of a downtown trailer park were given short notice to move because of the impending development of a 121-room Marriott Hotel. Another cluster of mobile homes was cleared at the corner of Kelly Avenue and Millward Street to make way for new apartments, which will rent for an estimated $1,800 a month.

The valley’s housing crisis has dominated discussions among town and county leaders for more than a year. Earlier this month officials approved a new housing plan that calls for a dedicated funding source to pay for future housing programs, but they haven’t been able to agree on what that recurring revenue will be. At a housing summit in May there was general support for a sales tax increase, but some officials have backed away from that idea.

The fate of the Pioneer Motel remains uncertain. The bank owns the property and several nearby parcels because of a 2013 foreclosure. Lawton pointed out that the bank never set out to be a landlord or developer. The property is under contract, but uncertainties about zoning have made it difficult to close a deal in the past, Lawton said. The Jackson Town Council has gone back and forth debating new zoning rules, and housing has been at the crux of the issue. Town officials have butted heads with each other and community organizations about how much more commercial development should be allowed versus housing.

Unsure of the motel’s future, bank officials warned tenants several times over the past few months that they might soon have to leave. The Community Resource Center distributed a list to tenants in September listing other motels around the valley that had openings. That gave some people a chance to relocate, but Oaks said many of the motel rentals around town only last through the spring. People may soon have to look for housing again.

Contact Ben Graham at 732-7074 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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(1) comment

Gregory Miles

Instead of arguing over the zoning, the Town Council should either buy the property outright or implement an immediate short term solution that would include making the needed repairs that would satisfy the building inspectors, fire,safety and health concerns. The property should then be re-rented to the very demographic it is serving. The bank can find a manger, that's easy. This would serve the community well until a long term solution for the property is achieved. Unfortunately this property will join the list of dilapidated properties all over town waiting for Council action (re-zoning) before any redevelopment occurs.

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