ShelterJH Candidate Questionnaire: Town Council
There’s a lot of talk about new development in Northern South Park providing homes that local workers can afford. What is your vision for Northern South Park? What income levels and kinds of workers should be able to afford the homes, and what price point serves those income levels? How can our community make sure the homes actually reach those local workers?
- Jessica Chambers: NSP should provide mainly permanently deed restricted affordable homes for the local workforce making below median income. They should be denser, ideally multifamily homes – whatever gets the most units built for the people who need them most – these will be for the people to whom the market will never be able to provide housing. In this situation, with the requested upzone the Gills stand to substantially increase their profit than with the current zoning. Potential monetary profit is a significant bargaining chip to get the most units for the families most in need. It’s a stretch to call it philanthropy on the part of the property owners to trade some profit for community housing. They will still stand to make a decent sum of money on the market rate homes. But there should be no deal to upzone unless it is in exchange for permanently deed restricted affordable-affordable housing for as many families in need as possible. (And the issues with conservation as well as schooling must be addressed.)
- Pete Muldoon: My vision is for NSP to be developed densely, with some mixed use to ensure it’s a complete neighborhood, limited parking to ensure we are not subsidizing more vehicles, narrow streets that prioritize bikes and pedestrians and promote community over the car, homes serving 120% of area median income and below with iron clad deed restrictions, and the development limited to a portion of the land with the rest preserved for conservation. Building $1-4 million dollar homes will not serve those in the community who keep it functioning, and it will actually make our housing shortage worse, as million dollar homes actually generate employees. If the Gill family is interested in moving in this direction, I’m all in.
- Jim Rooks: Northern South Park has tremendous potential to become a standard by which our very limited open and rural lands can be developed in a thoughtful and accountable manner. The Gill Property can become a “complete neighborhood,” including affordable housing, school land, parks and open space around the riparian zone. The location is ideal in many regards, including transportation, infrastructure, proximity to schools and stores. That said, the proposed development is imperfect. The county and town should collaborate with the Gill family, using established policies and existing comprehensive planning, to craft an improved development. While the proposal rightfully includes 65% deed restricted housing, i would like to see more diversified affordable/attainable housing options, including everything from long term lease – rent controlled apartments to condominiums and multi-family structures. The Gill development can further diversity the types and costs of such housing to better meet the needs of our community in exchange for the rural up-zoning variance. Affordability should, and can be, enumerated into any legal variance. With an estimated 20 year build-out, affordable housing should be prioritized to meet the current demands of the community, versus allowing for private single family home construction…and delaying affordable constructions. While I believe that affordable housing should be first reserved for our critical workers (i.e. medical staff, law enforcement, educators, etc…), it should not be exclusively reserved for only those demographics. As with all tax payer dollars, compliance and accountability must also be a priority to avoid the misuse and possible financial manipulation of the scarce resources.
- Devon Viehman: Our community has a huge opportunity with Northern South Park, an area designated by our Comprehensive Plan for future growth, to help our affordable housing crisis. We can secure workforce housing inventory to address these severe shortages. Our community needs thoughtful planning; however, we have to balance planning with the need for housing, rising construction costs, and desire from people to see meaningful housing built. There is not enough tax dollars for government-only housing projects. We need private-public partnerships, private-sector solutions and public investments to continue to keep up with our valley’s need for affordable housing. We should work in the community spirit to keep the dialogue positive when ideas and investments are brought to the table. I thank the Gill family for stepping up and working to be part of the solution. My vision for Northern South Park is to create a Complete Neighborhood, one where all local workforce income levels are offered housing with walkability to certain services. Currently there are seven schools, a future community college, grocery store, medical facility, retail space, and several START Bus stops – this already established infrastructure is crucial to successful, walkable neighborhoods. The first steps the Gill family have taken are wonderful, which includes a covenant on the land itself designating 65% of the lots to deed-restricted homes including 30-40 lots going to Habitat for Humanity. We have some more work to get done though to truly address the need for lower income housing that will require some sort of subsidy. Those homes need to cost around $300K. To reach that price point, we might have to consider whether or not people would be willing to do without a garage or second parking space in order to not have to commute. Our community can ensure this project is a success by working with the Gill family, possibly investing alongside them, to get to a proposal that truly meets the needs of our community’s working individuals and families.
COVID-19 has created a huge threat to our community’s health, and this threat is sharpest to lower-income and working-class community members. Local human service agencies have already provided rent assistance to hundreds of families who have never asked for help before and are struggling to keep up with the need. The disadvantaged in our community are struggling, choosing between paying rent and buying food and putting themselves and their family members at risk providing front line services. Especially as federal benefits decrease, many community members and families will face eviction and increased health risks. Other communities have enacted tenant protections like eviction moratoriums and even rent cancellation. How would you protect our community members?
- Jessica Chambers: My commitment: I will push for whatever we can do to keep our community safe and secure, whether that be mask requirements or an eviction ban. It amazes me how oblivious some people are to the direness of the situations that Covid has presented to low-income families especially, but also to families who’ve never needed assistance before. There absolutely have to be measures that protect renters. In addition, for families like my own who have tenants living in a section of their house, we too cannot afford to absorb multiple rent-less months — we cannot miss a mortgage payment and you can only put so many expenses on credit cards before they’re maxed out. Like many in Jackson, we live paycheck to paycheck often — but for others, pre-covid a quarter of the population couldn’t absorb a $400 unexpected expense like new tires. That said, there must be an eviction moratorium, it is unconscionable that anyone would evict anyone at this time and I cannot even believe it would be an issue. But we’ve got to find a sustainable solution for the community at large. More than any other time, the destinies of all community members are inextricably tied, from businesses to workers. Very wealthy people on the other hand are 100% fine — great really. It’s the poor and middle class who will be paying for this disaster.When our $1200 stimulus checks arrived, I was simultaneously grateful and alarmed. While $2400 was helpful and needed due to my scaled back hours during the extended spring break from school, my family would have been okay. We have credit cards and avenues to survive if we ran out of money or couldn’t pay our mortgage. For others in the community without steady income or forced to take time off, what was one $1200 check going to do for a family or household in Jackson Hole. And now with a stalemate in Congress and a desire to shrink the $600/month unemployment benefits Jacksonites will need more help, especially when the tourists leave and the economy shrinks again. With school starting and winter arriving, we are likely in for another dire situation.My husband has a steady job with insurance for our family. We will likely make it through, plus we were both able to work virtually and thereby earn money. That was not even a remote possibility for many families – lower income families with hourly wage jobs were either laid off, with little to no income, or were forced to go to work and deal with irresponsible community members out in the public. They were the ones most likely to lose income, contract covid, and not have health insurance. It’s truly a travesty. Of these families, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women who are more likely to hold these jobs. Children were home from school, expected to online school with little to no support or supervision or siblings stepping in. The stark divide that had already existed between haves and have nots has grown and will continue to grow. A lot of it is out of our hands, due to a governmental disaster starting at the very top.
We must take every step necessary to increase revenue and increase funding for our social services — unfortunately, I don’t know what we can do in that regard until we make another budget, but that must happen. They have absorbed so much of the community needs. If there’s a way to convene a special session to address the funding piece, I will lobby for that. And we absolutely must pass the 1% sales tax increase and up the lodging tax to 4%, so we can use that to cover expenses we would otherwise cover with our regular budget. But we have to do whatever we can as a town to ensure we make it through this menacing economic disaster. Ask any economist, if we do not provide economic life support, the future will be even more of a mess. Now is not the time for “fiscal conservatism.”So often decisions and solutions like this come down to politically courageous leaders, who lead and educate the community about the problems it can’t see. We need revenue to support social services at a bare minimum. We need the 7th cent sales tax to pass and we need to enact more if we can. The town’s revenue is also going to take more of a dive — this is not the time to slash or trim budgets — now is the time to survive.
- Pete Muldoon: Our ability to enact ordinances related to tenant/landlord contracts is almost completely pre-empted by the state. There is very little we can legally do to stop evictions, and what we can do we have already done.We can, however, help fund non-profits who can directly assist tenants. We’re doing this already, but I support expanding that program. I’m currently working to review the budget to find areas where we can reduce expenditures so that we can better support these organizations.
- Jim Rooks: Eviction moratoriums and rent assistance are valid options during this very difficult time for the most vulnerable segments of our society and community. My own family has discounted rent for the family that rents an apartment we own. We also keep our rental rates at near half of market rates, long before covid-19. While government can directly help support low income families, I would also like to see our local government establish incentives for local property owners who are “doing the right thing” in regards to helping citizens endure the harsh realities of covid-19.
- Devon Viehman: Our state legislature has already enacted such protections utilizing CARES Act funds. I voiced my concerns with our legislators and let them know the importance of using those funds to assist our renters. The Wyoming Community Development Authority is who authorizes and distributes those funds. The tenant applies for assistance on the 15th of each month and the funds are then allocated directly to the tenant’s landlord. As long as the tenant is current on their rent payments, the landlord cannot evict a tenant. We also have an issue with our business community; retail renters are struggling. I want those individuals to know there is help for them as well. The Wyoming Business Council has grants available for them to help cover their rent. Even if they received PPP funds, they can apply for funding to cover losses incurred. They also have funds available to cover the costs of PPE. Since our businesses must provide masks and sanitation supplies during this time it comes at an added expense to an already difficult financial uncertainty. The Wyoming Business Council has funds for those expenses as well. I will continue to express my strong opinion to protect our renters, homeowners and businesses. I have a vast network of colleagues and connections that I will use to get our voices heard and concerns addressed.
In recent budgeting processes even very modest amounts requested by the Housing Department and the community were not funded. We continue to lose ground on achieving our housing goals established in the Comprehensive Plan. Without additional and secure funding we will continue on this trend, diminishing the level of service to our visitors, decreasing the quality of life for locals, increasing social service costs, and decreasing education, health and financial outcomes of many of your constituents. How would you propose we obtain a permanent and dedicated/restricted source of revenue to provide safe, secure and affordable places to live for our local workers?
- Jessica Chambers: We absolutely must have a dedicated fund for housing. Many of the scenarios and reasons you site are covered in my lengthy response to the last question. Shelter JH’s suggestion for a permanent housing fund and/or “trust” that is dedicated solely to the production of affordable homes and rentals. That way, just like the land trust, people can give to the fund in addition to the town and/or county. This needs to be stand alone so that funding is there when the Housing Department needs it.
- Pete Muldoon: I would support any of the following options or a combination thereof: 1) A seventh penny of sales tax, with a percentage of the revenue going directly into a community housing fund , 2) a real estate transfer tax, starting on properties above $1 million, with the percentage increasing progressively and non-linearly and 3) a re-allocation of funds within the existing budget to better support of community safety goals (housing is essential to community safety)
- Jim Rooks: Relationships count! Communication and collaboration between the town and county is essential. Close working relationships between the authority, trust and habitat is key. Organizations like Shelter JH are beginning to move the narrative and understanding of our community and elected officials. Honest and mutualistic relationships with local land owners and developers is also important. The Gill Family is perfect example. I have reached out to the Gills and already brought forth the need for school land in the newly proposed development. They positively responded with a sincere commitment to include school land or fees-in-lieu. “Trust and verify” and high degree of civility are required to keep everyone on the same team. In addition to current funding streams, I would support a dedicated lodging tax to be used exclusively for affordable housing in Teton County.
- Devon Viehman: Housing more of our workforce locally should be our number one priority as a community. If this unhealthy imbalance continues, our community will not thrive as a whole. A steady, reliable funding source is needed so that affordable housing groups don’t have to rely on donations and state money (which isn’t reliable). This way they can make a long-term plan. I will work and fight during the budgeting process to make sure that affordable housing has a permanent place in it. I want to review the total of outside consultant costs over the last five years and ask the tough questions —is it really millions of dollars as some have said? If true, do we really need to spend millions on outside consultants? Could that money be better allocated for our own needs in our own community instead of paying those not part of the core town employee base? I think there are opportunities to always do better for our community, and that is my focus as a candidate and my job every day as a strong Town Council Member.I would support a voter approved sales tax that is specifically allocated for housing and is independent of the state and town. Other communities in WY have sales taxes like this, and the money is designated for a specific purpose rather than going into a general fund that the electeds then allocate at their discretion. Some of these sales taxes are as low as ¼ penny and still provide adequate funding for housing programs to rely on. We don’t need more sales tax that isn’t dedicated specifically to helping affordable housing. The lack of designation is one reason why so many community members won’t vote for it. And if we don’t get the votes, the point is moot anyway. We need to call those voters in and soothe their fears of approving the tax and then having the money not spent where it was promised. There could be an opportunity for individuals to apply for grants specifically for housing assistance from an allocated fund as well.