Beauty vs. money: Jackson housing program keeps the community together; In 11 years, 508 affordable housing units constructed
March 28, 2006
Tribune staff writer
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – In 1990, Stacy Stoker and her husband bought a vacant lot in Jackson for $27,000 and built a modest home on it. This year the property could fetch $600,000.
“It’s only worth that if you sell it,” Stoker said. “I have so many people who say to me ‘My house is worth this much and I have to sell it.’ So people sell it and they leave. Then your community is just not a community anymore.”
Realizing this scenario could materialize in the future, the Teton County Housing Authority was established the same year Stoker and her husband bought their lot. Together with the Jackson Hole Community Trust, the county offered its first affordable housing unit in 1995.
Eleven years later, 508 affordable housing units have been built, with 60 more units planned for 2006. These units include condos, townhomes and detached single-family homes available for ownership.
“Jackson Hole, I think, has done the best with affordable housing than any other ski resort town,” Park City Mayor Dana Williams said. “Part of our leadership group is going to other towns and basically stealing their best ideas. We go to Jackson Hole a lot.”
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The Jackson Hole Community Trust is responsible for building the structures, while the housing authority is typically responsible for acquiring open land. Both agencies work together and receive federal grants, but the community trust raises its own money for specific building projects.
However, it’s the county’s building requirements that have been most successful in combating the area’s affordable housing problem.
If a developer wants to build new residential units, at least 15 percent of those units must be set aside for affordable housing. If the developer doesn’t comply, their permits won’t be approved.
If a developer wants to build a commercial property, the county requires they provide housing for anywhere between 40-60 percent of the new workers who will be employed as a result of the businesses created. If developers don’t come up with a housing mitigation plan, their permits won’t be approved.
Instead of our local governments being able to work with a non-profit organization such as a community housing trust, they have to deal the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. It’s a unique animal compared with non-profit community housing trusts found in other ski towns, but the TRPA is an animal our government agencies can work with.
The TRPA offers incentives for developers looking to provide affordable housing, such as immediate allocations or higher density bonuses when building affordable housing units. However, in conjunction with our local governments, the TRPA doesn’t have requirements for developers, something Stoker believes all ski towns should have.
“At first, there was resistance,” said Stoker, who now works for the housing authority. “But now developers understand the need and are very willing to provide what is required.”
People who make between 80 to 175 percent of Teton County’s median household income ($50,750) qualify for affordable housing. In South Shore, the median income is $34,000, and the city of South Lake Tahoe’s first-time homebuyer program uses income figures that don’t work for our community.
In order to qualify for the program, a single-person household can’t have an income of more than $35,900, while a two-person household can’t have an income of more than $41,000. Assuming an applicant fits under those income guidelines, they first need to get approved for a first mortgage by a lender.
Once that happens, the program will provide “gap financing” up to $100,000 that serves as a second mortgage. For example, if a first-time homebuyer applicant who makes $30,000 is approved for $150,000 first mortgage – five times their gross annual income – the program’s additional $100,000 would allow them to purchase a home or condo inside the city limits for $250,000.
On April 24, the South Lake Tahoe multiple listing service didn’t have any condos or single-family homes inside the city limits priced under $250,000. The city also requires applicants to provide a $10,000 down payment for a second mortgage that has its payments deferred as long as the applicant lives in the residence full-time.
In addition, the program’s maximum purchase price for a home or condo is $375,000 and requires all homes to pass FHA inspections. These restrictions have resulted in a largely unsuccessful attempt at helping combat South Lake Tahoe’s affordable housing problem.
In Jackson Hole, different incomes place people in five different affordable housing categories. There are five different categories, with units available for as a low as $63,000 in Category 1 to $300,000 in Category 5. The county has made sure they use figures that work for their community.
Teton County’s programs, though, are not without its caveats.
Home appreciation for units is capped at about 3 percent. Owners also must re-sell their units to other affordable housing applicants. While the county doesn’t buy back the units, it does facilitate the sell, which numbered 18 in 2005.
Another issue is how affordable housing applicants are selected.
All home ownership units are issued via a lottery, and there is a preference for applicants who have worked in the county more than four years. The county estimates it gets an average of 15 applicants per unit, but has about 750 affordable housing applicants who are notified when a new property comes available.
Stoker estimates the county’s affordable housing programs are meeting about 50 percent of its need, but argues 50 percent is better than 0 percent. That’s why she encourages other towns to address the problem as early as possible.
“Don’t wait. If you think there is a problem at all, you need to get started right way,” Stoker said. “We’ve really accomplished a lot in the past few years. What we want is to keep people living here and working here and volunteering here. We want to keep our community.”