A message from county commissioner candidate Mark Newcomb:
JACKSON, Wyo. — I believe the community needs housing that’s 100% for local workers and 100% not for wealthy out-of-towners. Sound impossible? It’s not. But it does require a delicate balancing act of policy, zoning, private philanthropy, public financing, community outreach, and thoughtful leadership. I’ve been on the front lines of zoning for 14 years and housing policy for six. I’ve helped put in place policies that built 411 units in the past few years with 358 more planned. Every one of these units is conveniently located near transit and services and eligibility extends only to local workers.
There are two categories of housing in Teton County—housing that can be purchased by anyone in the world, and housing that can be purchased exclusively by people living, and working full time in Teton County. The first category, free-market housing, is comprised of a dwindling pool of housing for local workers and an expanding pool of second homes, short-term rentals, and houses owned by hedge funds and creative ownership structures that essentially result in them being turned into resort lodging (Pacaso, for example). At a median value of $3.1 million, the vast portion of free market single-family housing is out of reach of local workers. The second category, deed restricted housing, can only be bought or rented by local workers. It includes a supply of housing stratified by price to meet demand from various income levels. Deed restricted housing provides housing for local workers, period. The median price of a single-family deed-restricted home is around half a million dollars.
Preserving community character boils down to increasing the ratio of deed-restricted housing to free-market housing. The town and county currently deploy four strategies.
- Preserve our existing stock of housing by compensating homeowners for placing a deed restriction on their home. That leaves them the right to sell to a qualified, local worker regardless of income level but not to the absolute highest bidder.
- Buy free market property where market housing or commercial development would otherwise get built and lease the land to a housing developer for almost nothing in return for guarantees that housing built on the site is deed restricted.
- Use zoning incentives to expand the earning potential of a property in exchange for the provision of “bonus” housing units, at least some of which must be restricted to local workers.
- Require developers to build some amount of deed-restricted housing to partially mitigate the need for new housing resulting from new development—a so-called mitigation requirement.
Each strategy has its pros and cons. The first two strategies are the most effective at improving the ratio of deed-restricted to free-market housing because they eliminate potential market housing while adding 100% deed restricted housing. However, they cost the community more because money to purchase land comes from philanthropy and public funds (tax revenues and mitigation fees). And thus far preservation is rare, likely because the current maximum level of compensation, $200,000, is insufficient compensation for a deed restriction.
The second two strategies cost the community less because developers pay for the new housing units. However, this type of new housing would only be made available when new development takes place, and the new development might generate the need for even more new housing, thus do little to positively influence the final ratio of deed-restricted to free-market housing. Two new developments utilizing incentives to add bonus units in town, for example, are adding 62 units of housing, but only 16 of them will be deed-restricted while the remaining 46 are available to anyone in the world who desires to live here.
A new project, the 57-unit Jackson Street Apartments, is the largest 100% deed-restricted housing project in our history. Because it’s on land that could be used for lodging and high-end housing, it’s a good example of the second strategy. I view it as the gold standard for building housing that will preserve our community by improving the ratio of deed-restricted to free-market housing. First, the Mayor and Town Council, through a rigorous public process, adopted zoning standards that allow for multi-family development where it makes sense within the town. The Cumming Foundation purchased lots within areas newly zoned for multi-family housing that were adjacent to lots purchased years before by Teton County for county employee housing. Land and capital combined, the Cumming Foundation brought $21.5 million to the table and Teton County brought $10.5 million. First Republic Bank contributed $14 million in financing at 2.5% and a private developer to build the units. To get shovels in the ground, April Norton and Housing Department staff artfully steered the project along a narrow legal alley, where public funding could leverage private philanthropy.
Northern South Park will push limits. Stay tuned for my next article about how to get it right in Northern South Park.
Maximizing our opportunities to build housing that’s 100% for local workers requires thoughtful, experienced leadership. Early voting began September 23. Ballots can be cast through election day on November 8. This fall, please vote to re-elect Mark Newcomb for County Commission.