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Town council makes progress on workforce RV parking

April 17th Town Council Workshop

ShelterJH member Jack Maguire sat through and reported back on this week’s town council workshop about workforce camping. Here’s his report.

Overview

Town council made progress on a pilot project to allow workforce camping in town this summer. They landed on two basic ideas: (1) allow overnight-only RV/camper parking in a town parking lot, with permits only for local workers, and (2) allow RV camping in some town zones so that private landowners can open RV camping for local workers. Town staff is going to bring back more info at an upcoming town council meeting. You can send your ideas and reactions to council@townofjackson.com – feedback helps them do their job!

What happened

Summer workforce camping was the largest blocked off section on the workshop agenda and the discussion lasted over the 30 minute time period. The questions town council members had for their staff brought some light to the issue and showed that serious effort has been put toward trying to find a way to implement summer camping for our workforce. Here is a link to the Town Council’s Workshop Agenda for summer camping and here is a link to the live video of the whole discussion.

One option that was brought forward is for the Council to issue an emergency ordinance to allow RV parking in certain areas of Jackson. What happens in an emergency ordinance is the town declares an emergency, current ordinances are suspended, and new ordinances are issued for a set period of time. The town had been looking at issuing this under a first come first serve basis – meaning that anyone could take advantage of this RV parking, not just the workforce.

There was reluctance among the Town Council to use an emergency ordinance. Jim Stanford was the most vocal Town Council member in support of going through the normal process of holding three public hearings / ordinance readings on the issue (which takes minimum 10 days). Jim was confident that the Council and their staff would be able to get the work done before the summer season kicks off in earnest. Pete Muldoon was largely concerned about giving guarantees to the people who would be running camp sites or overnight parking areas. Primarily, that the Town government would give the private owner permission to build the business only to force them to shut down in the near future due to new or long standing regulations or other legal restrictions

A new idea

A brand-new proposal that was brought forward was for a 2.5 acre plot of land at 1080 South Highway 89 to be made into an overnight parking or camping location by a private owner. The hurdle which needs to be overcome for this plan to go forward is that currently no Land Development Regulations (LDRs) allow for camping on private property. Audrey Cohen-Davis, the town attorney, stated that the Town Council or the planning director could change the LDRs to allow camping either temporarily or permanently. An emergency ordinance could also be used to allow camping on private property.

The individual who has offered to start the business is Cody Wojtasic* and he was called to the microphone to elaborate on the business venture. Cody is the owner of an RV repair shop in Jackson and is looking to develop two plots of land, the previously mentioned plot in Jackson Hole at 1080 South Highway 89 and one in Hoback behind Cowboy Taxi, into short term housing/camp sites. Cody said that he wants them to be like the camp grounds by the Virginian, but not as large or bulky. If you decided to rent a spot at his camp you would have water, power, and your own area where you could park your RV, tiny home, or set up camp. Cody has currently set his price for rent at $800 a month.

Jim Stanford asked Cody if that price was too high for the workforce who are in need of affordable housing. Cody replied no, he thinks the price is fair especially in comparison to the $1200-2000 rent for a studio apartment in town. Cody stated that the barrier he was running into is that current regulations do not allow any camping on private property; the same barrier that Audrey had described earlier in the Workshop. If anything, that was the theme of the discussion about summer workforce camping. There is the possibility to do it but the main obstacle preventing the idea from moving forward is that current zoning regulations simply do not allow camping. After Cody’s presentation, the Town Council moved forward onto public comment.

Public comment

Jeff Walker was the first person to stand up and address the Council. His concern was focused on the “scope” of what the Town Council was trying to do. Jeff stated that the discussion and direction of this venture is moving away from trying to provide a place for our summer workforce and moving toward a camping for anyone strategy.  Jeff finished by commenting that he doesn’t want to see these new camping measures go to tourists or people just “coming to Jackson for the summer” and that a permit system for camping/overnight parking appeared to be the best way to assure that these measures reach Jackson’s summer workforce.

[Editor’s note: Jack Maguire, this author, was next. Jack spoke powerfully about the need for the Town Council to do something for our workforce. Jack grew up here and has worked in the service industry for years, and knows many people who camp in the woods or hide around town, and would much prefer to be able to camp somewhere legal and safe.]

The next person to come forward and share their opinion was Joe Kudar who owns the Kudar Motel and RV spaces. Joe stood up and advocated against the Town Council allowing other people to RV park/camp near his RV parking/camping. Joe stated that you would be taking away parking and that there might be crime that follows. Joe said he spent some of the previous years of his life in Green River where they allowed camping in the town limits for employees. Joe said that Green River experienced depreciation and a higher rate of crime in these areas as a result. Joe finished by saying that he hoped the Town Council would find somewhere else for workers to stay that isn’t near his property.

The final person to comment was Tim Rieser. He was assertive and asked the Town Council if we actually knew the number of employees, “the scale of the problem”, in Jackson who were forced to or were camping during the summers? Mayor Muldoon stated that this time was reserved for comment. At that point, Tim re-stated the question, said knowing the scale of the problem would help us find a solution, told the Town Council that was all he was asking, and took his seat.

Town council discussion

Town Councilors then wrapped up this section of the workshop with their own thoughts. The tone from all the Town Council members was far more accepting and positive than it was at the last meeting. All were in support of putting further investment of time and resources into figuring out the details of what summer camping would entail. Pete Muldoon was interested in having further public discussion on overnight parking by permit behind the Rec Center while Hailey Morton-Levinson supported exploring Cody Wojtasic’s proposals. Hailey further explained that she is interested in simplifying camping, that some sort of permit system is the way to go (so that it’s for workers only), and is still concerned about the Town Council being able to do this the right way the first time. Hailey said she was encouraged by the public input.

Don Frank was ecstatic about the proposal which Cody Wotasic brought forward because Cody is a private citizen who sees public need and is willing to take private risk to help. In Don’s opinion, as long as the plan is respectful of the neighbors’ needs, the Town Council should allow it to move forward. In a memorable line, Don said “carpe campground – seize the opportunity.”

The main concern supported by almost all Town Council members was to ensure that this effort would be to benefit the summer workforce and not to allow tourists to use this program. In general, they wanted the program to allow overnight parking only (to keep parking available for tourists during the day) and to require permits (so only our workers are parking there overnight) on some town parking lot TBD. The Town Council then moved for the staff to look further into overnight parking, camping, and the proposal for 1080 South Highway 89. All were in favor.

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Letter to council: workforce camping (3/3/17)

March 3, 2017

Mayor Muldoon and Jackson Town Council
P.O. Box 1687
Jackson, WY 83001
council@townofjackson.com

RE: April Joint Information Meeting Agenda Item
Summer Camping in Public Parking Lots

Dear Mayor Muldoon and Councilors,

Shelter JH respectfully requests the following item to be placed on the April Joint Information Meeting Agenda: Summer Camping in Public Parking Lots.

The summer season is rapidly approaching and is forecast to be the busiest tourist season on record. Additionally, few new housing units for working folks have been added to an already low inventory of secure housing in our community or our bedroom communities down valley and over the hill.

This seasonal increase in employees (demand) and low housing inventory (supply) places our most vulnerable populations at risk of finding any secure housing. As witnessed last summer, it is likely desperate measures will be taken to find basic shelter, such as people sleeping in cars, families camping, seasonal employees cramming into old motel rooms, people sleeping in shifts in beds, and single moms living in mold infested units.

Shelter JH urges the Town Council to consider ordinances that allow summer camping in public parking lots and provide associated facilities to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its constituents. This short-term answer to our housing crisis is necessary until long-term solutions can be implemented.

Thank you for considering Shelter JH’s request to further conversations regarding summer camping in public parking lots to create short-term secure housing options for all members of our local workforce.

Sincerely,

Christine Walker
Policy Chair
Shelter JH

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Tenant protections workshop response letter, March 10 2017

March 9, 2017

Mayor Muldoon and Jackson Town Council

P.O. Box 1687

Jackson, WY 83001

council@townofjackson.com

 

RE:           Tenant Protections

Dear Mayor Muldoon and Councilors,

Thank you for holding an informative and in-depth workshop regarding tenant protections in January. We were very encouraged to hear your support for our neighbors living in the toughest conditions, and look forward to seeing what your legal team brings back for your next meeting. We support the idea of starting with areas that the community can agree upon, such as requiring adequate notice before a rent increase and addressing health and safety issues.

We would like to offer a few points of clarification regarding the various topics you discussed:

1. Non-discrimination: our federal Fair Housing Act includes seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. In the staff report, your legal team identified only one additional class you might want to protect: transgender people. Two important additional classes for protection are left out: sexual orientation and immigration status. These classes are not protected under federal law; they could be under local law.

Please include sexual orientation and immigration status as protected classes in our municipality, and make it illegal to discriminate when it comes to housing, based on these categories.

2. Non-retaliation: your legal team also told you that the federal Fair Housing laws already covers non-retaliation. But that’s only the case when landlords retaliate against tenants for standing up for their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act. So it doesn’t cover retaliation against tenants for fighting discrimination that isn’t covered by federal law (see above), or for anything else like safety issues, repairs, insufficient notice, etc.

Please add non-retaliation for situations not covered by the Fair Housing Act.

3. Habitability: your discussion focused on health and safety issues with homes, such as mold or working plumbing. As your legal team pointed out, most of these issues are already covered under state law. Our hope in raising this issue in a previous letter was that you would consider also covering repairs to major essential appliances, such as refrigerators and stoves, because that is not currently covered under state law.

Please include major (critical) appliances in your habitability/repairs ordinance 

4. Support for landlords: also on the topic of repairs, we respectfully request that you consider setting up a low- or no-interest loan fund for landlords who want to make the required repairs to their homes. This will prevent the negative effect where some landlords may decide it’s too expensive to make the repairs, and instead they’ll stop renting places long-term to our workers. A loan fund will provide an incentive to make needed repairs. If you want to be sure that public funds have clear public benefit, you could include a requirement that landlords accessing these funds promise to rent at an affordable rate until the loan is paid back.

Please use existing funds designated for affordable housing to support “preservation” of existing affordable housing stock.

Also, we would like to offer our help if you do put together a stakeholder committee; a representative of Shelter JH would be interested and willing to participate.

Again, thanks for your energy and effort for our neighbors in the hardest housing situations.

Sincerely,

Christine Walker

Policy Chair

Shelter JH

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Tenant protections – letter to council Nov 20, 2016

November 19, 2016

Mayor Flitner and Jackson Town Council

Tenant protections in the Town of Jackson

Dear Mayor Flitner and Councilors,

Shelter JH is encouraged that you are discussing tenant protections in Jackson. As we have worked with our membership of tenants and low-income workers, we have found a tremendous need for basic tenant protections. Wyoming laws disproportionately favor landlords and provide virtually no protections to tenants, and our local ordinances contain nothing at all on the subject of landlord-tenant law. When we don’t take care of our employees, it’s not only bad for them as human beings, it harms our community and economy by making it difficult for business owners to retain quality employees.

We recognize you are working hard to provide housing and to encourage the private sector to do the same. We also support you taking action to protect those of us who have found housing and are vulnerable to mistreatment because we lack leverage and legal protections.

We have investigated options for what our Town can do, and researched what other communities have done. We believe it would be prudent to start with easier actions, such as notice requirements or non-retaliation rules, assess how they go, and then tackle more challenging and impactful areas, such as rent stabilization measures. Understanding that resolutions do not allow for enforcement, we ask that you pass ordinances and assist with changing the behavior of those that choose to mistreat tenants. Here are six areas we recommend discussing:

  1. Notice requirements

The Town could pass an ordinance establishing a minimum of 30 days (for monthly lease) or 60 days (on a longer lease) notice before (1) no-cause eviction, (2) non-renewal of lease, (3) rent increase.

  1. Habitability and repairs

The Town could pass an ordinance that requires landlords to (1) maintain a minimum standard of habitability (including heat and appliances like stoves and refrigerators, beyond the plumbing, electricity and running water standard required by the state), and (2) make repairs to property as needed to keep premises in condition in which they were rented, other than to repair damage caused by tenant. This would, in addition to water/electricity as currently required. The Town could then create an inspection program, similar to how HUD requires habitability inspections for units rented with federal funding. The Town could also establish a small fund to support landlords in making these repairs.

  1. Fair Housing / Non-discrimination

The Town could pass an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against tenants, or potential tenants, in addition to existing federal Fair Housing protections. This ordinance would protect people based on immigration status and sexual orientation – two areas that are not protected by federal laws.

  1. Non-retaliation

The Town could pass an ordinance stating that landlords may not retaliate against tenants who exercise their other rights.

  1. Lease content and renewal

The Housing Department could provide a “standard lease” that includes all of the rights as outlined in the other sections here, to ensure that leases are in compliance. Additionally, the Town could pass an ordinance establishing (1) a “first right of refusal” when a lease is available for renewal and the existing tenants haven’t violated their lease in any way, (2) leases automatically default to month-to-month leases upon expiration of previous lease.

  1. Rent increase cap, a.k.a. rent stabilization

The Town could pass an ordinance preventing egregious rent increases. This is not “rent control,” but simply a limit on how much landlords can raise rent in a year. We recommend working with stakeholders including landlords, tenants, business owners and housing advocates to determine the appropriate percentage – for example, we know 20% or 40% are too much, but perhaps 3% or 5% or something similar, tied to inflation, would be acceptable.

Thank you for considering these options. Please know we truly appreciate your commitment to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community through tenant protections. ShelterJH is ready and willing to support your work through legal research, research into what ordinances have been effective in other communities, and conversations with the public and stakeholders.

 

Sincerely,

Christine Walker

Policy Chair

ShelterJH