02 May

Unfixable

I have been told some thoughts I have expressed in my blog aren’t very compassionate. I can see why some might come to that conclusion.

I am sorry.

This blog is going to be based on compassion.

This spring, meetings have been held, homeless families have been used as props in the housing debate and frankly, I find it super sad. The folks that do this have exactly zero solutions to offer folks in immediate need. Instead, they seem to want to lay blame at the feet of our current elected officials. While I am always happy to pick on them, they are not the cause of this immediate problem.

It is creating a bizarre world.

So-called conservation groups are now preaching for growth. Housing, and by the thousands they say, is the only way to solve it – housing right here in Jackson and paid for by local government.

They have embraced sprawl.

These groups have ironically embraced a corporate welfare mentality by promoting government supplied housing for employees of private companies.

Hmmm.

A subsidy for a housing unit is somewhere around 400,000 to a half million.

The push to house a certain percentage of the workforce in this valley is folly.

Not only do planners admit they can’t actually measure the percentage, they don’t have any answer for how other than to build 2400 homes in the Town of Jackson.

Bad numbers and flawed analytics have been a part of the planning process for years. In 2007 the housing data said we had 65% of the workforce living in Teton County. But it also said that was dropping by 3 percent per year.

Oh?

If they were right, we would today only be housing 40 % of our workforce. Of course that’s not true.

The use of this 65% goal has actually masked obvious solutions for housing that, had they been in place all this time, would have lessened the tragedy we face right now.

It is a good thing to call out a problem and put a face on it and it is also a good thing to embrace practical solutions.

Keyword: practical.

I’ll get to practical in a minute. For now, though, let’s talk about ‘Not Practical’. (Trigger warning: you may want to find a safe space in case this generates a micro aggression or two)

It is not practical to create a tent city, as some have proposed. If you step back and look at this idea, you could conclude that it inhumane, that the idea suggests our workers are nothing more than a commodity. Labor camps are not a good fit for our valley.

It is not practical to build 2400 houses in Jackson. A few hundred? Sure, but not thousands. We have too many people here now and the effects of that are obvious. There is no way to build our way out of this crisis.

It is not practical to put accessory units on every lot in every neighborhood. Trust me, you do not want one on the lot next door. It costs too much to build one of these and even if you did, you would have to charge a market rate to ever pay it off.

What is practical is also obvious. Commuter communities, such as Victor and Alpine, exist everywhere in the world. For some reason, though, this is never part of the discussion. Every city and resort town on the planet relies on commuter communities and seldom are they considered as less than desirable.

In commuter communities, people can do things like buy a home, build equity, have a future.

In commuter communities, it is still possible to construct an apartment building without the expense of contradictory regulations.

For the price of one housing subsidy, we can buy a bus that will provide safe transit for hundreds living in a commuter community. We can and we should increase commuter runs and I think the Town and County are going to do that because it is one of few tools that they have to deal with employee housing.

It is practical for the public/private affordable housing projects to be built. The Housing Trust and Habitat have a strong track record of successful development. But, as I said, we can’t build our way out of it.

It is practical to let private business provide housing for their private employees, but you have to let them have the option of doing it on-site or in our commuter communities.

The idea that we should blindly follow the 65% goal is silly. The barn door on that has been open for twenty years and the whole herd is scattered to hell and beyond.

You can’t fix it.

It’s too late.

Decisions we made in the past have failed us. Let’s stop pursuing bad ideas and embrace the practical. It’s compassionate.

 

 

5 comment on “Unfixable

  • I must be lacking compassion as I agree with you. I have wished for money these past years so that I could invest in apartment buildings in Victor, Driggs, Alpine, Etna and at the Hoback. I have wished for money so that I could run that commuter bus you speak of. I have wished for money so that I could buy the Virginian Apartments and do the overhaul on them.
    I have lived in the valley for 51 years now. I do not own my own home. Too busy being a single parent there for awhile and now I think it’s getting time to leave the silliness.
    Who decides who gets government funded housing? Whose yardstick would we use to measure that? Why is an employee for the county more deserving than a waiter at the local diner? This is why I don’t believe government subsidized housing will work.
    I’ve watched my family sell out and leave. I’ve watched my friends sell out and leave. Perhaps it’s my turn to pack it in.
    Before I ramble on even more, I’ll close. But I still wish I had money for those apartment buildings…..

  • Largely I agree with this. I might take exception to the tent city remark. These would be for 90 days to take pressure off the lower end of the rental market. Currently these people are camping in cars and the woods in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. We need to do something. I’d like to see Jackson become the community it pretends to be.

    But largely you are right. It’s over. Twenty five years of the TCHA and government mismanagement and it’s now too late to fix the issue meaningfully. But less regulation and an easier process for private development would help. But certainly government development and building initiatives are wrongheaded. That’s why I spent more than a year making sure the TCHA was dismantled. And it is. We will see what happens from here on.

  • I agree that the camping will occur anyway – so maybe a more organized approach would be helpful… we all argue about this stuff – but i think we want the same thing

  • Easy solution; Scores of rentals have been taken offline by VRBO,Airb&b popularity. Most problems already have laws to address them,like many of the worlds problems if we enforce existing laws problems disappear. Our community recently hired ONE employee to address this issue! Better funded enforcement would be an inexpensive way to free up rentals.Knee jerk reactions like man camps or letting RV’s become homes would be a disaster. This is a private sector problem not to be solved with public money.Everyone cannot live here, our traffic should be our first clue.

  • Everyone does not have a right to live on Park Avenue or Jackson Hole. Young people complain that they cannot afford to live here. When I was young, I could not afford to live in my parent’s neighborhood either.

    If we built 2400 affordable units, we would have more hotels, need more doctors, dentists, teachers, roads, ad infinitum. Then we would need another tranche of affordable housing Affordable housing represents an urban spiral without end. We cannot build our way out of this problem, the more affordable housing we build, the more we will need.

    The obvious answer is to embrace Victor and Alpine as part of our community and provide more bus service.
    Our commuter buses have wifi and are very comfortable. Would you prefer to ride a bus on the pass or on a California Freeway or the Long Island Expressway? This is how people live in America. And commuters can own their property like ‘real Americans’ without a cap on the resale price or restrictions on dogs, chickens, and gardens.

    Finally, this is an employer problem, not a government problem. Employers charge Jackson Hole prices and should pay their workers a Jackson Hole wage rather than looking to us taxpayers to subsidize their business.

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