Housing in Jackson: ripple affects in neighboring communities

JACKSON, Wyo. — The lack of housing opportunities in Jackson Hole is having rippling effects in our neighboring communities. 

The Town and County recently approved the Housing Nexus Study, set to begin this summer. The study was originally set to begin in May of 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s study also includes an additional aspect, a Regional Needs Assessment.

The Regional Needs Assessment is aimed at providing information about how much and what types of housing are needed today and will be needed in the next serval years. Information will be collected from the “commuter-shed communities” which include Teton County, Idaho and northern Lincoln County, Wyoming.

The Jackson/Teton County Housing Department found that between quarter four of 2019 and quarter four of 2020, rental rates in Star Valley for a two-bedroom apartment increased 19%. The estimated commuting cost from Star Valley is about $600 per month. Teton Valley, Idaho saw the largest rental rate increase of 60% overall, with an estimated monthly commuting cost of $500.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, 80% of businesses in Teton County rely on employees who commute from Star Valley or Teton Valley. 55% of businesses have had between one and five employees lose housing in the last six months.

The lack of housing is affecting staffing levels at local businesses in Lincoln County, Wyoming.

Melvin Brewing, located in Alpine, is currently looking for at least twelve more employees to make it through the summer. In addition, they are trying to find housing for six long-term employees who have been priced out of their rentals in the past few months, explained Mariel Nelson, Human Resources Manager at Melvin Brewing.

“I have been hiring in and around Jackson for the last seven years. I’m pretty familiar with the situation but this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Nelson. “The housing crisis just keeps getting worse and worse.”

Nelson explained that Melvin recently increased starting wages to entice applicants and has received five to ten messages since they began hiring six months ago but applicants cant find housing. “We are looking at increasing wages again just to compete with the cost of living,” said Nelson. 

The brewery is relying on their very small staff and a few retired people who work flexible schedules packaging beer. 

“People are working ten-hour days and pulling doubles and we are still down people in the front of the house,” said Nelson. Adding, “At some point, they are going to burn out. We have been all hands on deck and helping each other but we can’t continue to do it this way. If we don’t get more people we are going to get to a make-it or break-it moment.” 

Nelson explained how the housing crisis in Jackson has put pressure on the surrounding areas like Alpine and Afton. Increasing rental prices are forcing out local workers. “None of our actual staff is living in Jackson, they are all trying to find housing in Afton and Alpine,” said Nelson

Out of desperation to keep staff, Melvin is housing a few staff members on the property in a trailer but that is not a long-term solution with long, cold winters beginning as early as October. 

“It’s always been tighter here but now people are paying $1,600 to live in a 500 square foot place. We don’t have Jackson wages here in Star Valley.” 

“People always think this is a Jackson housing issue but this is a Star Valley issue, a Teton Valley issue, the issue has all merged into one in my opinion,” said Nelson. 

Teton Valley Idaho is also feeling the pressures of the housing crisis in Jackson.

Brian McDermott Executive Director at Teton Regional Economic Coalition said, “The dilemma is we are the equivalent of waterfront property on both sides of the Tetons. Everything is more expensive in resort towns.” 

“We are seeing people having to go to Rexburg and Ashton to find housing,” said McDermott.

He also discussed how real estate prices have increased as well as construction costs, “It used to be about $150 a square foot and now its pushing $400 to $500 a square foot.”

“COVID-19 threw gasoline on a smoldering fire,” said McDermott. 

Driggs recently relaxed standards and is allowing trailers on properties, as a short-term solution.

According to the 2020 progress report from the Teton Regional Economic Coalition, Teton Valley’s population is 12,417 up 1,692 since 2015.” We have a fair amount of space here to absorb the growing population but we do not have the infrastructure,” said McDermott.

In 2020, in Teton Valley, Idaho 200 new jobs were created. The top three industries are Construction, Government and Food Service and Accommodations.

One solution McDermott presented was getting more money in the hands of local workers by encouraging businesses to increase prices, raise wages for workers and offer local discounts across the board so the local community is not affected by high prices. While that might make it harder for tourists to afford to visit, McDermott argues that offering a premium experience could choke off demand.

“Labor has something that is valuable and it will be neat to see if labor has the ability to flex its muscles,” said McDermott. 

As more and more of Jackson’s workforce is being pushed out of Teton County, Wyoming, the resources and infrastructure in the neighboring communities are feeling the effects, exacerbating the cracks in those communities’ own housing issues.

About The Author

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.

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