In an unprecedented move, Jackson Town Council canceled its regular meeting on November 18 so council members can attend a legislative meeting in Cheyenne. That’s when members of the Joint Corporations Committee will discuss a draft bill that could decimate Jackson’s affordable housing program. The bill would prohibit towns and counties from requiring developers to build or pay for housing.
Mayor Pete Muldoon said those requirements, though imperfect, are integral in addressing the valley’s housing crisis.
“It’s a tool that we feel we need, and that the government best able to decide how to use it is us.”
If the bill makes it out of committee, Muldoon said he worries what that would portend for the local democratic process.
“We’ve had these discussions here locally and we have allowed everyone to weigh in on them, regardless of the amount of wealth or influence you have,” he said. “If we’re going to make these decisions and only allow people who have the means and the ability to go down to Cheyenne to lobby the legislature to get their way, then that’s really going to end up with some bad policies that are very undemocratic.”
The Jackson Town Council is not the only group gearing up for a 6.5-hour road trip to the state capitol. Several Teton County Commissioners will also make the trek. Outside of the government sphere, people affiliated with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance will attend too. Skye Schell, executive director of the Alliance, described the draft legislation as “a really awful bill to remove our ability to do housing mitigation, requiring developers to build housing for new employees that they’re generating jobs for.”
Schell said the emergence of such a bill after similar legislation died earlier this year was disappointing. “It’s really unfortunate this is happening at all this year … we thought it was dead for good.”
The Corporations Committee is considering a draft bill akin to House Bill 277. That bill, sponsored by Goshen County Rep. Shelly Duncan, died during the 2019 legislative session. Then in September, the Corporations Committee voted to revive it during a two-day meeting it held in Jackson. The vote drew public ire because it happened after legislators had an unannounced lunch meeting with the group Jackson Hole Working.
State Sen. Mike Gierau said the meeting was problematic because “the committee was getting half the picture or the opinion of one side.”
But JH Working’s John Stennis told KHOL in September that he didn’t recall any JH Working members discussing the bill with lawmakers. He said the group hasn’t taken a position on such legislation.
“What we went there to do was to share our lived experiences working here in Jackson. There were board members, but there were non-board members talking to the committee as well. It was really not so much about specifics, but about broad areas that we are concerned about in our valley.”
Still, JH Working readily admits that housing is one of those concerns. Since that meeting, members of JH Working have also met with nearly every local elected official to discuss housing issues in the valley.
Some of its board members will also attend the Corporations Committee meeting in Cheyenne on Monday.
The group argues that current housing regulations have created a no-growth situation. “Jackson Hole Working believes the current commercial regulations are a significant barrier to small business, redevelopment and entrepreneurship,” JH Working’s Ted Staryk said in a statement. “Worse still, the regulations are failing to produce what they are intended to: substantial workforce housing.”
Folks from JH Working and other critics say this conversation centers on Jackson’s new housing mitigation rates. They require developers to pay for a larger portion of employee housing than was required of them in the past. Some believe the legislation the Corporations Committee will consider on Monday is in response to that.
Teton County Commissioner Greg Epstein is not among the commissioners traveling to Cheyenne, but he opposes the legislation. He said the Wyoming Legislature doesn’t understand the nuances of Teton County’s affordable housing needs. But, “when we decided to pass the new housing mitigation regulations, I think we bit off a much larger chunk without really looking at the consequences of what that means. Without state legislators having to be completely educated on the issues of inclusionary zoning, they can say, ‘Well, Teton County overstepped, or there was a lot of government overreach. And so we should just get rid of the whole rule.’”
In other words, Epstein worries the rates have placed a target on Teton County’s back and helped inspire a draft bill that Sen. Gierau called an “attack on Teton County.”
The Joint Corporations Committee meets 8 a.m. Monday, November 18 in Cheyenne. They are scheduled to discuss the draft legislation at 10:30 a.m. After that the committee will review Jackson Rep. Mike Yin’s draft bill that would impose a fee on second homeowners.