Why housing mitigation is a very good idea

Why housing mitigation is a very good idea

It’s not news that finding and affording housing is tough in this town. As Teton County shares on their planning site: “Housing has become more and more expensive since the 1980’s, and as a result, many of community’s employees now live outside the Valley. In 2012, the community set a goal to address its housing issue so that at least 65% of local employees could live locally. The goal is important because employees who live locally stay in the community longer and, as a result, are more invested in the community. Local workers also have a greater appreciation for the natural resources of the area and spend their money  locally.”

Housing mitigation means that when developers build new buildings (hotels, restaurants, condos, mansions, etc), they have to build or pay for enough housing to take care of some of the new employees they generate. This short animated video from the Housing Department explains how it works currently, and how the new proposal is different. 

What did we decide on last year? Over the past year, the Town & County asked our community what everybody thinks about this: should we increase mitigation? What kinds of development should pay how much? Etc. And our community spoke clearly in favor of having developers pay for housing. The Town and County set their official “policy direction” based on that input – see the “Direction” chart on their website here: 

Direction: Mitigate for the entire income range of households that cannot afford housing (about 0-200% of median income), but focus the requirements on the lower income households with greater need. (part of Alternative 2.A) 

Direction: Mitigate to the maximum, legal extent to meet the community’s housing goal. 

Where are we now? At the last minute, commercial advocates are trying to overturn all that community input and direction, by raising fears that increased rates will destroy our small businesses and community. They are only focused on the increase to commercial/lodging rates, and aren’t mentioning the proportional decrease to multi-unit residential rates. Essentially, these new rates will encourage more housing – especially apartments. That’s exactly what our community has been asking for, for years. 

The Town and County will vote on this on July 16 – help us speak up for housing. Read our comment letter below and write in or share your own comments at their meeting.


July 11, 2018

Jackson Town Council & Teton County Board of County Commissioners

Dear Mayor, Councilors, and Commissioners:

Thank you for considering our comments re: housing mitigation. We believe that new development should pay its fair share by housing new employees. We heard a clear community consensus during a year of Engage2017 input, and we applaud your resulting policy direction to increase mitigation and improve our jobs-to-housing imbalance. This is a critical and long-overdue way to implement our Comprehensive Plan vision and Housing Action Plan strategies. Unfortunately, as we near the finish line, you are mostly hearing negative comments from some community members focused on one side of the equation. Luckily, there is an equivalent upside:

First, for context: the current proposals would leave the overall amount of mitigation essentially unchanged. The latest Town proposal – that developers should house 55% of year-round employees for non-residential buildings, 73% for lodging and residential, and 0% of seasonal employees on any new buildings – would change the overall amount of mitigation from 33% to 36%. Another proposal would keep the overall rate at 33%. (Incredibly, some commercial developers and their lawyers have asked you to decrease the rates below current levels, making our jobs/housing imbalance even worse. Please don’t.)

This is a “yes housing” policy. Some commercial advocates have tried to label this a “no growth” policy: they say we’re discouraging lodging/retail/office growth by increasing mitigation rates. But they’re missing a key point: we’re decreasing residential mitigation rates, especially on apartments, just as much – so we’re equally encouraging housing. Also, developers get bonus “floor area” for all the required units, and they get increased density and reduced parking in the Town Districts 3-6 zoning. Add it up, and this is clearly a “yes housing” policy. Landowners may find that it’s as profitable to build apartments as to build new hotels or retail space – so we may start to see more housing projects for our local workforce.

What about small business? Some landowners have said that increasing mitigation on commercial developers will destroy our small business economy, and we’ll only see new development from large corporate chains. But our rules already encourage those corporate chains – look at the new Marriott and Walgreens (almost). Let’s not blame the consequences of global market forces on our new pro-housing policies. And let’s not use small businesses as a political pawn. We and many other small for-profit and non-profit businesses struggle to attract and retain great staff because of the severe lack of affordable housing. More housing is good for business.

What about private schools? Please don’t exempt private schools from providing housing. We’ve lost great teachers for years because they couldn’t find housing. We need more housing for teachers, not less. Any private institutions adding more jobs should also provide housing for their teachers. Exemptions are a short-term fix that make it easier to build new schools today but make it harder to sustain good teaching jobs in the long run.

Please be in touch with any questions, and thanks again for your commitment to our community.

Sincerely,

Skye Schell

Phone: (307) 733-9417
info@jhalliance.org
685 S. Cache St. PO Box 2728
Jackson, Wyoming 83001