An article in the Sept. 22 edition highlighted the launch of the Community Housing Fund, a project of the Teton Board of Realtors. The individual real estate agents, brokerages and sellers who have donated nearly $200,000 to date should be applauded.
It’s a great gesture.
But a voluntary housing fund is a tip jar approach to our workforce housing crisis, and for most valley workers the tip jar just doesn’t pay the rent.
In coming years the community will need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars if it chooses to build subsidized workforce housing.
The escalating price of real estate means that Jackson Hole is losing workforce housing far, far faster than it can be built.
The private sector will not be able to solve this problem. Although some market-rate apartments recently opened, the price of rent eclipses what most local workers can afford.
Jackson’s largest apartment rental complex, Blair Place, changed hands last week. That means rents will likely rise for the 294 one- and two-bedroom apartments already priced at $2,050 to $2,600 a month.
Considering the public subsidy that could be needed to create a meaningful number of workforce homes in northern South Park alone has been estimated at $100 million to $500 million, a formal and steady funding source is crucial.
Across Wyoming, communities are feeling the squeeze. Workers from cities like Jackson can’t pay the rent so they move outward. They snatch up available housing in nearby satellite communities, where the rent quickly increases, pushing the problem farther from the source.
Wyoming relies on its Legislature to pass a real estate transfer tax, but Teton County does have power locally to enact one more penny of sales tax. If voters had approved the 1 penny tax that elected officials requested in 2018, many millions could have already been collected for housing. Visitors pay more than half of that tax and the state just reported that Teton County saw an eye-popping increase in sales and use tax of 87% in second quarter 2021 compared to 2020. But at least one penny that could have been collected wasn’t.
The available local tool is to pass a general penny tax to fund housing, while the Legislature gets on board in the long term with a real estate transfer tax, unearned income tax and other revenue enhancement tools to pay for needs the private sector won’t provide. Wyoming needs a well-funded task force to focus on housing.
Ultimately this issue is one that will define our community in the future. We have to choose: What kind of community do we want? Our actions today will weave the future fabric of those who live and work in Jackson Hole.