How should we change our affordable housing rules & regs?

The town and county asked for public input on a series of questions about our Housing Rules & Regulations as part of their Engage2017 planning work. The ShelterJH policy team dug deep into the questions and wrote the following letter to our elected representatives. We hope it helps explain what mitigation is and how it can help. Make sure to share your ideas with the Town Council and County Commission! Contact us with any questions at info@shelterjh.org, and please become a member and build our power today!


RE: Housing Rules & Regulations

Dear Mayor Muldoon, Town Councilors, and County Commissioners:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your joint housing rules and regulations. ShelterJH is a membership organization that works to ensure all who work in Jackson can have a home here. As we consider changes to housing rules and regulations, we should always ask what the changes will do for our workers and community – especially our community members in the most vulnerable situations.

We believe it is important to have clear rules and regulations governing the “who” and “how” of rental and ownership homes provided by the public sector to ensure that policies are equitably serving all working households. The current rules and regulations have evolved over the last 22 years to address shifting needs and implement diverse programs established by the Board of County Commissioners and Town Council.  This patchwork of rules and regulations has:

  • Contributed to the complexity of the housing program creating management challenges and increased staffing requirements
  • Reduced transparency, created misconceptions and made it difficult for residents to understand; and
  • Is likely disproportionately serving different demographics – maybe not to the benefit of our most vulnerable neighbors.

We believe this exercise is a great start to understand community perceptions about the existing housing program, explain how the current program operates, and learn about what is being done in comparable communities. We also believe the next step of this work should be undertaken by the Joint Housing Authority Board because most of these questions are technical and deserve scrutiny by those that have expertise and will be implementing these rules and regulations.

This next step should include an analysis of the existing housing program to understand through data instead of perceptions whether the existing rules and regulations have been effective at achieving the intended housing program goals.  Because there is no data in the materials to date, it is impossible to determine whether there are problems with the status quo, or if any of the proposed alternatives will actually improve the housing program.

Additionally, the basis for the proposed alternatives has some shortcomings.  The term “best practices” of comparable communities is misleading because the comparison is of the practices used by these communities without an analysis of whether the practices are effective.  Additionally, the reliance on Aspen as a model is troubling because the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority is actually right now undertaking a major overhaul of their rules and regulations based on a thorough study of their housing program.

In order to work within this Engage2017 process, we provide comments for your consideration that distinguish between the various housing programs, such as Affordable, Employment-Based, and Accessory Residential Unit, where appropriate. Our comments are intended to simplify the existing housing framework, make the public market work with more efficiency and ensure fairness.


1. What should the employment criteria be to rent or purchase a restricted home?

1A: Modify the employment criteria to make them more user-friendly while adhering to the Fair Housing Act:

  • Eliminate the employment preferences in the lottery system; they are complex to manage, difficult to understand, confusing to potential buyers/tenants, and they are discouraging to new employees. (See also question 10.)
  • It is crucial to define what “local workforce” means. We support your definition: working at “a business located within Teton County, holding a business license with the Town of Jackson, or one that can provide other verification of legal business status in Teton County, WY”.
  • Telecommuters have a choice to live anywhere and should not be eligible for any housing programs subsidized by the public sector. There is a limited supply of this housing and occupancy should be optimized by restricting to local workers or classes protected by the Fair Housing Act and seniors.
  • We suggest that you remove immigration documentation requirements from rental units: currently “at least one member of the household [must be] a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (Green Card).” While that may make sense for ownership units, where lenders require immigration documentation for a mortgage and sellers of deed restricted homes can be impacted by the inability of a buyer to obtain a loan, rental units do not have this challenge, and our community goal is to house the local workforce in our valley. We should be concerned with whether the renters are employed in the valley and within the income limits that we require for everyone – and that’s it.
  • We support allowing families to buy affordable/employment homes if at least one adult household member is documented (e.g. citizen / legal permanent resident). While we recognize there are reasons to require that our homeowners have documents (such as obtaining leases, and the security of knowing their employment situation), we do not believe our community should be in the business of immigration document inspection for all household members. If any adults qualify, let’s not worry about other household members.


2. What kind of assets should be allowed and/or counted, and how much is the limit?

2G: This is a technical question demonstrated by 7 options for consideration and is beyond the scope of appropriate public outreach. The Joint Housing Authority Board should provide a policy recommendation based on technical analysis of the current asset limit and calculation methodology.  Data would enable answers to several questions, including:

  • How many households are denied access because of the current asset cap?
  • How many households would be impacted by a change in the asset cap?
  • What percentage of household assets are retirement savings?
  • What is an appropriate asset cap to allow equal access to restricted housing inventory?

We offer some suggestions for consideration to the options proposed:

  • Ownership of another home or mobile home within 150 miles should not be allowed while owning a deed restricted home. Upward mobility is achieved by offering an opportunity for safe, secure, and affordable housing with a share of the equity at time of resale.
  • Ownership of a home or mobile home at time of qualification for an “Affordable” home should be allowed to enable households to move back into the valley from our bedroom communities and to move into more suitable housing to meet their household needs.
  • Ownership of a home or mobile home at time of qualification for a rental product or an “Employment-Based”, “Attainable” or “Workforce” unit should not be allowed. Special circumstances can be addressed through the relief process.
  • If ownership is allowed in any of the programs, the income from the residential property should be used in calculating household income and the equity in the home should be used to determine household assets.
  • Implement a set asset cap, such as $200,000, that applies to all “Affordable” categories.
  • Eliminate retirement savings that are not used to purchase the home from the calculation of assets so households are not ineligible because they have been financially prudent by saving for retirement.


3. How many months out of a calendar year should a household be required to occupy a restricted unit?

3B&D: The intent of using public resources for restricted housing is to provide a safe, decent and affordable place for local workers to live.

  • The occupancy requirement should be 11 months out of the year for the deeply subsidized “Affordable” homes – in order to reduce competition for lower priced homes from those that choose to work fewer months out of year, and recognize the unique character of Jackson’s workforce that often hold seasonal jobs.
  • The requirement should be 9 months per year for the Employment-Based and Workforce homes, as those programs are more flexible by design, and not targeted to low-income workers.


4. What livability standards, if any, should apply to restricted units?

4G: This is another technical question demonstrated by 7 options for consideration and beyond the scope of general public outreach. The Joint Housing Authority Board should provide a policy recommendation based on technical analysis of the current asset limit and calculation methodology.

We offer some suggestions for consideration to the options proposed:

  • Rental units designed for seasonal employees, often in the form of dormitories, do not have the same storage needs as units for long-term employees.
  • Standardize the size requirements between long-term rental and ownership units. Allow flexibility for design creativity that does not compromise livability.
  • Maximum sizes should be implemented to encourage more units instead of larger units, if mitigation is based on square footage.
  • Energy Star appliances are competitively priced and widely available. Use of Energy Star appliances should be required to decrease the operational costs, which impacts long-term affordability.
  • Consider an incentive that allows developers to raise the maximum sales prices if they incorporate elements that lower costs to operate and maintain the home compared to current building codes.


5. What percentage of a household’s income should be spent on housing?

5A: Determining an affordability standard is a common challenge for policy makers in resort communities. Selecting a measure that minimizes the subsidy to create the unit, while ensuring that housing is a source of financial stability to the occupant is a delicate balance. The 30% ratio of income-to-housing cost is the most common figure used in comparable communities.

The Joint Housing Authority Board should provide a policy recommendation based on technical analysis of the current methodology. Data would enable answers to several questions, including:

  • How many households are getting homes that could afford to pay more?
  • How many households are in homes that are unaffordable?
  • How many households have been denied housing because they exceed the debt to income ratio limit?

We offer some suggestions for consideration to the options proposed:

  • The Affordable homes have qualifying income ranges designed to prevent households from earning too much to qualify for certain homes.
  • The minimum debt to income ratio discourages households from being financially sound and carrying unnecessary debt.
  • The maximum debt to income ratio was implemented prior to the financial crisis when banks were offering high risk loans based on stated incomes and high debt to income ratio. This standard should remain because it protects the community asset by offering a method to ensure the buyer can afford the home and lessening the risk of foreclosure. It also ensures that the buyer is eligible for a conventional loan.
  • Consider lowering the percentage of income spent on housing for “Affordable” Category 1 households. Households earning $100,000 per year have much more left over after paying 30% of their income for rent or mortgage to cover other necessary costs than do households earning less than $30,000 per year. The flat 30% ratio does not take into account the varying ability for households at different income levels to afford non-housing essentials such as food, clothing, transportation, healthcare and childcare.


6. When should a household have to qualify for a rental or ownership home?

6D: 6B is recommended to streamline the requalification process, but consider a longer time-frame for requalification of rental units to between 2-3 years to reduce management costs and increase renter stability.  Requalification on “Affordable” ownership should not be required as long as owning other residential real estate is prohibited (see question 2).


7. How should the sale/rent price be set?

7G: This is a technical question and the Joint Housing Authority Board should provide a policy recommendation, based on an analysis of the current program. It is unclear whether there is a problem with the current system and if any of the proposed alternatives and data would improve it. We recommend answering several questions, including:

  • Are the homes affordable to the current occupants?
  • Are households able to pay more for housing? If so, how much?
  • Are households paying too much for housing? If so, how much?

We offer some suggestions for consideration to the options proposed:

  • Make sure the methodology to calculate initial sales prices and rental rates is clear, transparent, and easy to update.
  • Set initial sales prices for Employment-based units and Workforce ownership units to serve households earning at or below 200% AMI.
  • Interest rates significantly affect the affordable purchase price of homes. For every 1%-point rise, the purchasing power of a household decreases by about 10%.  This needs to be considered when establishing prices for new affordable homes.


8. How should restricted ownership homes be valued at resale?

8A: Maintain status quo until an analysis can be completed to evaluate the inventory of affordable housing and see which alternative is creating affordable outcomes over time.  There is an opportunity to analyze these alternatives because the housing program has been in existence for 25 years and there is a supply of affordable housing units to evaluate. This is in contrast to arbitrarily selecting alternatives without basis.


9. How should renting or subletting be handled?

9C: Owners should be able to rent rooms to other local workers. This especially makes sense for owners of employment-based homes. Currently, no homeowners may have roommates. This may make sense in income-limited (e.g. Category 1-3) homes, where roommates put household income over the limit. However, for employment-based homes without income restrictions, there is no reason to prohibit roommates. And if roommates do not push an income-limited owner over the income limit, that should be allowed too. Ultimately, allowing roommates who also work here further helps house our workforce.


10. How should the buy/sell process work?

10 None of the Above: Streamline and simplify the lottery system by removing all preferences (including for critical service providers and for length of time living here).  This will allow access to all members of the workforce in an equitable manner, which is the appropriate use of local, state and federal tax dollars as well as developer exactions.  It also makes the selection process transparent, easy to understand, and far less costly to administer. Finally, instead of being perceived as a system where people are rewarded for “earning” affordable housing because of how much they’ve contributed, it is a simple and equitable system that – once people are in affordable homes – ensures they can stay and contribute to our community.


11. What types of relief should be allowed from the Rules & Regulations?

11D: Formalize the appeals process, clarify the process and set standards for making determinations. Make the appeals process and determination criteria available to the public in a transparent manner.


12. How should new Rules & Regulations be applied to existing units?

12E: The Special Restrictions should at a minimum include terms and conditions related to occupancy, use and resale. Instead of relying on public comment, legal advice should be sought to determine what needs to be in the Special Restriction or Ground Lease to protect the community asset, what can be contained in the Rules and Regulations, and which set of Rules & Regulations must be referenced. If a rental product, the relevant and current Rules & Regulations should be incorporated in the lease agreement.


Thank you for your consideration and these technical issues.  Again, we respectfully recommend that the next step is a technical, data-driven analysis of the existing housing program with review by and recommendations from the Joint Housing Authority Board. Please be in touch with any questions if we can help.



Christine Walker

Policy Team Chair