ShelterJH’s proposal to the Jackson Town Council for a building moratorium is a wake-up call as to the seriousness of the housing problem in Teton County.
Sadly, it is also misguided.
Indeed, like many other resort communities, Teton County has a serious affordable housing crisis. Passions are running high and there is a feeling that town and county government is not doing enough to address this problem. While I commend ShelterJH for raising the profile of the pressing issue, we should be careful that emotion does not override reason lest the solution be worse than the problem. We have to ask ourselves what problem does a building moratorium really solve? What are we trying to accomplish?
We have to confront two realities: One, there is no “silver bullet” solution to this problem. Two, Jackson Hole is such a beautiful, special place to live that demand for housing will always exceed supply. Add a third reality that there is a finite amount of buildable land in the county and we have a difficult situation.
Next, let’s ask ourselves what is government’s role in the solution. The town and county do not have a great record as developers. Real estate development is not their skill set. Fortunately they have turned over responsibility to the triumvirate of Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing, Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity and they are producing results. However, where town and county can help best is by working with private and non-profit developers to help secure federal and state money, tax credits and other incentives for the private sector to build more affordable workforce housing.
More importantly, how is the private sector doing providing affordable housing to our community? Actually, really well! In 2021 a total of 108 deed-restricted units will be completed. The private sector is producing three times as many units as the town and county. Moreover, there are 611 units in the pipeline — 292 deed-restricted units and 369 market rate units. In last week’s News&Guide, developer Mogul Capital announced plans for 150 more workforce market-rate units. We are making progress.
That is why a building moratorium, as proposed by ShelterJH, would be so counterproductive. We need more supply, not a freeze on new construction. A lack of new supply would just drive up real estate prices even further. And we need to work with the our local developers and builders, not penalize them. Capricious action by the town of Jackson would only discourage developers from trying to build more affordable housing. Another proposed “solution” that may sound appealing on the surface but is deeply flawed is the idea to eliminate single-family zoning. This idea flies in the face of private property rights, a bedrock of our society. And, while well-intentioned, this proposal smells of social engineering — “government knows best.” How does this help families looking to raise their children in Jackson?
Another misguided idea is the proposal to raise real estate taxes to fund public housing. Higher real estate taxes hurt everyone in town — renters and homeowners alike. Higher taxes are already driving out our workers and retirees. Higher taxes get passed through to renters in the form of higher rents. The best way to help our struggling working families is to reduce property taxes. Surely there are better ways to raise revenues to support affordable housing.
I would like to call attention to the Jackson Street Apartment development planned next to the Snake River Brewery. In this case the Cummings Foundation is stepping in to offer below market-rate financing for the project, which is an innovative solution that helps improve affordability for these units. If we work together as a community, if the private sector, government and our philanthropic communities can work together, we can make a dent in this problem.