Two housing projects hit speed bumps; now what?

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Members of the town council struggled this week with weighty decisions on affordable housing efforts in Jackson. Faced with government funding that never materialized for one project and neighborhood opposition so fierce it quelled talk of another, councilmembers Monday talked about plan Bs for workforce housing in town.

At a workshop Monday, councilors were asked how they wanted to publicly fund a shortfall on a workforce housing build at 174 N. King St., created when the project was denied tax credit allocations from the Wyoming Community Development Authority. In addition to providing direction to the Housing Trust on whether the project at N. King should be rental- or ownership-based, electeds also kicked around ideas for coming up with some $3.3M in gap funding due to tax credits never materializing for the housing development.

“You really got hosed over,” councilman Jonathan Schechter sympathized with Housing Director April Norton regarding the lost tax credit opportunity. He added that his preference was to expand thinking when it comes to ROI (return on investment) discussions and housing. “Will [smaller and cheaper] housing really supply housing for people we want here or is it subsidizing the private sector?”

A rental model would result in 30 units of housing while slightly larger ownership units would result in a 24-unit project.

Councilman Arne Jorgensen said he would be willing to make another try at W. Kelly with 12 units rather than the 16 shot down last month in order to reduce impacts to the neighborhood. He also said he wouldn’t mind reconfiguration of the W. Kelly project as long as the number of bedrooms remained the same. He was not interested in simply flipping the property but rather sitting on it until “things cooled down.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon again expressed his disgust at a deal on W. Kelly not getting done. He refused to listen to discussions about reducing the number of units there, reminding his colleagues that the council had already left units off the table from the max allowed 24 before even calling for last month’s failed vote on 16 units. He said eight units does not get it done is his opinion, nor do 10 nor 12 when thinking about being a careful steward of the public’s money.

“Why are we here?” Muldoon asked when any talk of building affordable housing seemed to be hitting a wall. “We have a Comp Plan that says to build affordable housing and says to build it here [W. Kelly Street]. If we are not willing to do that, why are we talking about it? Let’s move on to King Street.”

Muldoon added he was not willing to give up on W. Kelly by selling the property the town and county just bought in January. Along with Jorgensen, he said he was willing to sit on it for now until the town could get with the county and figure out what they would be amenable to. Joint ownership of the property requires both g0vernment bodies to agree on a housing project at 430-440 W. Kelly and thus far they have been unable to do so.

Jim Stanford said W. Kelly could get done but it would likely mean more public subsidy. Building smaller is not as profitable for private developers who responded to the town’s RFP.

“I think there is a way to build at 440 that the community can get behind but it will take money. If we are not willing to spend, I’m ok with selling the land,” Stanford said.

Jorgensen reiterated a desire to move forward on something even if the council felt in the dark as to what the board of county commissioners might agree to regarding W. Kelly. “Everyone is left hanging,” Jorgensen said, referring to a community, town/county partners, and three developers who answered a call for a 16-unit housing RFP only to find out that wasn’t palatable to electeds.

The council approved waiting on W. Kelly until their next get-together with their county compatriots, and N. King St. was sent back to the drawing board for more pros and cons on whether the project should be rental or ownership and how it would be paid for given recent bad tidings.

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