Whether or not you have housing in Teton County, you should be paying attention to the county’s upcoming decision about what to build at 105 Mercill Ave.
If you’re a county taxpayer, you have dirt in the game. The county owns the land, valued at $2.1 million.
Since the town and county have decided they don’t want to be developers, they’re going to supply the land to private developers to build housing.
The rationale is attractive. Get government out of the building business and shift risk to a private developer.
But no matter who builds it, the county’s $2.1 million asset is at risk. What if developers run into roadblocks? What if sales projections are off? What if construction costs come in over budget?
If this risk runs true, “value engineering” could lead to construction compromises that cost unknowing homeowners years down the road. Already, a private developer awarded a project at King Street through a similar bidding process has failed to secure anticipated tax credits, delaying construction.
The Housing Supply Board appears to want developers to be able to profit in the process, but the community question should be whether paying million-dollar developer fees is the right approach when investing publicly owned land.
Since the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust is a nonprofit developer, it doesn’t charge a developer fee and instead brings $1.1 million in private donations to the table.
Also, maximizing permanently affordable deed-restricted units reduces the risk that the housing could cost an outsized portion of a worker’s take-home pay. In contrast, workforce deed restrictions can set the sale price at whatever someone who works in the county can stand to pay, affordable or not.
No matter which developer the commissioners choose for this project, the process around future requests for proposals requires a fresh look. Perhaps, county elected officials should consider using a request for qualifications approach with clear fee and building priorities. That way the town and county can partner with private developers in a way that reduces risks for the private sector while ensuring the public’s best outcome: permanently affordable housing.