‘A Disappearing Home’: How Jackson’s housing crisis is pushing out the working class

A new multimedia exhibit documents the housing struggles of over a dozen residents powering our community, from restaurant servers to teachers.
Edith (left) is part of one of the families featured in the exhibit. She works at a fast food restaurant in Jackson but commutes from Alpine, because that's where her family could find housing. (Lina Collado Garcia)

by | Oct 6, 2023 | Housing

Photographer Lina Collado Garcia walked clockwise around her exhibit at the Teton County Library, stopping in front of a glossy collection of photos on the lobby walls.

She pointed to a photo of two people servicing food at a Teton County Fair booth. She said the couple, Edith and Chema, who didn’t give their last names for privacy reasons, have been living in the region for over two decades.

“They have four children, three sons and one daughter,” Collado Garcia said. “They’ve moved four times in four years … One time they ended up sleeping on just a relative’s couch because that’s all they can find.” 

Now, they’re one of the many families who commute to town from Alpine — through an often snowy, dangerous canyon. Collado Garcia said they struggle to get enough sleep, resulting in health issues.


And those aren’t the only negative impacts of the housing crisis she aimed to show through her new exhibit, “A Disappearing Home.” She spotlighted 14 individuals, all living with the chronic instability that makes it difficult to raise kids, put down roots, get an education and move up in the world. 

Collado Garcia, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, has lived in the region for a decade and said she’s only seen the problem get worse. So, when the pandemic hit and exacerbated the affordability crisis, she decided to start collecting photos and interviews showcasing people’s struggles to make ends meet.

She sat down with KHOL at the library’s Wonder Institute Recording Studio to talk more about what inspired the project. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Collado Garcia, who also works at the Teton Literacy Center, plans to eventually turn the project into a book. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

LINA COLLADO GARCIA: When COVID-19 started, as an educator, I was seeing the conditions where students were studying because of the housing crisis and how the housing crisis was forcing many families to study in bathrooms and in circumstances that are really just detrimental to the student. I started asking if I could just take photos. My first photo was in May 2020, and that kept me actually going through COVID. 

From there, I started noticing that many families, no matter their career, no matter their cultural background, everyone was struggling with housing in some way, shape or form. Certain words kept popping up like instability and uncertainty and space. And just those things just really started resonating and creating this unified story of how the working class of Jackson is really struggling and is trying to make it work because of how much they love where they live.

HANNA MERZBACH/KHOL: Tell me about your own housing journey. How did that play into this project? 

COLLADO GARCIA: It very much did. I was one of the fortunate ones that when I moved here, I found an apartment. It was $575 a month, and I lived there for four years. And then my boyfriend and I decided to move in together, and we found this apartment in town, and we signed a year lease. We were enjoying our new space, and about a month after moving in, we were told that we had to leave in 30 days because it was being sold, and that threw us in a complete frenzy of, ‘Oh my god, where are we going to live?’ Rent at that point — this was four years ago — was starting to really climb. 

By the luck of the draw, I saw an apartment in a newspaper, and I was able to find a place where I live now. It was an extensive process, but we secured housing, and every year our rent goes up. Last year, it went up drastically, and I was paying over half of my income in rent. That just put a really gigantic financial struggle on my personal life, on my mental health. And I realized that I was one of many, that I wasn’t the only one and that mine was actually low. 

KHOL: You tried to showcase a variety of perspectives. You have both families, individuals. It looks like you have people of all different kinds of descents, different ages. And the exhibit itself also is in English and Spanish. Tell me about how those ideas of diversity and making this accessible played into your work.

COLLADO GARCIA: My main goal was to show that the housing crisis is not an issue that just focuses on the Latino community. I wanted to show that this is an issue that happens to all of us. And no matter our job, no matter if you work in a nonprofit, you work in a restaurant, you work in a beauty salon, you work anywhere in Jackson — we all struggle in some way or another, especially if we’re part of the working class. 

And I just really want the exhibit to be a barrier for anyone. That is why the location was crucial, the library being a space where everyone walks in for free and where there’s transportation to go. And also that the language of the exhibit wasn’t a barrier because, as a Latino myself, that was a priority. I wanted to have people be able to read it in their own language. And that’s also why I did not translate to interviews. The interviews are in their own language because I felt if I was translating them, I was changing their voice.

Fio Lazarte is a third grade teacher at Munger Mountain Elementary. She spoke to Collado Garcia about the challenges of making it as a single woman in Teton County. Listen to her story below. (Lina Collado Garcia)


KHOL: You started this project three years ago at the start of the pandemic. And obviously, Jackson has always been an expensive place to live, but it’s even worse now. How did you see things changed during that time? 

COLLADO GARCIA: It’s been really eye opening, jaw dropping at some points. And I understand that change happens and change is good, but sometimes change can happen while you’re not protecting what is valuable and what is important. I have seen a lot of families have to move and be kicked out of their home. The change has been very dramatic, and also I can say, negative in many aspects, especially from the housing perspective.

KHOL: Coming out of being on this project for three years, how are you feeling about the housing crisis? A lot of people feel despair over what’s happening here, hopeless. Is there anything that gives you hope?

COLLADO GARCIA: I very much join the masses in thinking that it is out of my control, that I can do all I can do being tenant, and that I can make my voice be heard, but at any point next year, my landlord can say, ‘I’m selling,’ and then I am out, and I don’t know what’s going to happen because finding an apartment or house that is less than $3,000 a month is very rare right now. And that is just a reality that we all face. 

But I think there’s a lot of power in the collective voice and that if we can get together and do the action steps and actually fill the room of a town council meeting instead of having just like the same five or ten voices, I think that does make a difference. And that’s what I hope the exhibit and this project continues to do, is just kind of be that presence where it needs to be. It is just this ever presence of, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us.’ 




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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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