Mountain News 

More affordable housing needed

By Allen Best

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Nearly everywhere in the West, ski towns are being urged to build more affordable housing.

In Jackson Hole, developers of residential real estate are currently required to make 15 per cent of their housing available for deed-restricted lower- and middle-income housing. A consultant recommends upping the ante to 40 per cent.

Jack Stout, the president of the Housing Authority’s board of directors, said he expects opposition, but an ambitious action is needed to stem the loss of Jackson Hole’s worker base. Fourteen per cent of employees commuted into the valley in 1990, say consultants, but 33 per cent by 2005.

The goal is to keep the percentage of the commuting workforce to below 40 per cent. Christine Walker, Housing Authority executive director, said that the “tipping point” at which a town loses its sense of community is when 40 per cent commute. At that point, many of the local service providers relocate to outlying areas.

Jackson Hole began its affordable housing program in 1996, and so far this century has been delivering 125 housing units per year, but the expanding job market has seen the need for 270 to 340 new units per year.

The Vail Town Council has also been looking at stepping up affordable housing requirements. A proposal introduced by the town earlier this winter to require that 30 per cent of residential construction is at lower price points has been reduced to 10 per cent, and only to certain areas of the town. A companion proposal, to require that developers of commercial projects be required to provide housing for workers in those projects, has similarly been watered down, this time to 20 per cent. However, the town council has given no indication it will completely back down from proposed requirements.

Aspen is the model that Vail and Jackson Hole, and a good many other towns, have been looking to. There, developers have faced stiff requirements for affordable housing. Some of those developers, when queried by the Vail Daily, grumbled that they almost can’t make ends meet. But Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Office, said the stiff requirement has not deterred development. And, in fact, he added, “they still make a ton of money.”


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