As I sip my hot coffee on the front porch of my house on one of the busier streets of East Jackson, I see all kinds of residents walk by: seniors walking for their daily exercise, new mothers gingerly pushing tiny babies in their strollers, a group of friends high-fiving after a bike ride up Cache Creek.
This is the community that I love and in which I have chosen to raise my family. I am one of its most fortunate citizens simply because I was able to purchase my own home here.
Many people in our community have not been as fortunate. Many of them, including some of the most committed members of our workforce, are looking for an opportunity to stay. Yet, as I watch the town of Jackson and Teton County negotiate our local housing crisis, I feel they may be missing the mark in their attempts to create a healthy, whole, sustainable Jackson Hole.
Yes, we need affordable housing, and as a working mother of two young boys I know firsthand that livability in Jackson goes beyond securing housing for families. The second biggest need for families in this community is affordable out-of-school care.
Nationally, in areas where land is a hot commodity, successful models of dual community benefit developments are popping up. These are progressive communities, willing to think outside the box in order to support their hardworking residents with dignified housing and an additional needed service, such as day care, a museum or even a health clinic. Often it is the families living in the housing that directly benefit from the neighboring organization.
The new Affordable Housing Plan initiated by town and county is a great first step. The process involves the town or county providing land to developers. The selection process, understandably, is significant and requires a request for proposals and bid process. So far there have been three bid processes on three sites. It is exciting to see the range of development concepts and designs that come to the table.
The Jackson Hole Children’s Museum has been involved with two of these bid processes, through partnership with the JH Community Housing Trust. The concept behind this partnership is to maximize community benefit by providing an affordable housing project that can also provide a space that supports families with out-of-school options for their children. Two birds, one stone.
The fact is the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum is looking for a forever home, which is equally as difficult for nonprofits in this town as it is for working families. The Jackson Hole Children’s Museum is not just a museum. It is impacting our community in a multitude of ways, providing a creative learning and play space for thousands of families each year, offering high-quality afterschool and summer programs and providing all K-5th grade children at our local school district with engaging STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programming. They are a place where children can be nurtured and find something that sparks their imagination.
It seems that since taxpayers are ultimately paying for these parcels of land, the town and county should have an interest in maximizing the benefit and ultimately impacting more residents by addressing more than just one community need.
Ultimately this town needs housing opportunities to ensure that hardworking individuals, couples, and families have a fighting chance to live where they serve. In addition, families depend upon stable and affordable organizations that offer dynamic programming for their children throughout the year. I believe that by working together and encouraging bigger picture collaborations, we can create a better community for all.