‘Please help us’: Community members speak out about desperate rental situations in survey

The new town and county housing report sheds light on rental prices and residents being pushed out of the region.
Latitude 43, previously know as Blair Apartments, is the oldest large apartment complex in Jackson. The report revealed the median price for a two-bedroom rental is $3,000 a month, though it can be more for people signing a new lease. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Housing

A new report on the rental market in Teton County paints a dire picture. 

Over 900 community members participated in the town and county survey, conducted late last summer. Their message, as one respondent put it: “Please, help us.”

The survey results — released this week — include data on rental prices around town and over 15 pages of comments about the affordability crisis many say is slowly hollowing out the community.

“Pretty soon Jackson will no longer have employees to run their businesses,” wrote one of the anonymous respondents. “People will leave and the economy will die here and be a ghost city.”

‘Backpack of stress’

Over 20 Jacksonites said they’re considering or planning to leave town because of the high costs. After two decades of failing to find better housing, one couple said they are looking at jobs and real estate in Wisconsin. 

And many of those who choose to stay are finding themselves in desperate situations. 

“I stay in a bad relationship because I can’t get my own place,” one resident wrote. 

Another couple — a local barber and mechanic — described living with their two kids in a studio apartment.

“My kids don’t have a room of their own and we don’t have a kitchen table to eat at because we don’t have the space,” they wrote.

Teton County/Jackson Housing Director April Norton details the region’s housing crisis in front of a state taskforce. Her department led the charge behind the rental survey late last summer. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

According to Jackson/Teton County Housing Director April Norton, most people in this town wear “a backpack of stress” when it comes to their living conditions. She said the anecdotes in the report will help inform local leaders when making policy decisions. 

“I think that that gives us a little bit more color and better understanding of the actual numbers,” Norton said. “You know, we’re not talking about just data. We’re talking about people and their lives and their families.”

Going to the renters

For the past few years, the housing department has reported on rent prices at the five largest apartment complexes in town, using data provided by those complexes. 

Those include Aspen Meadows, Latitude 43 (previously Blair Place), Hidden Hollow, Sagebrush and The Timbers.

But, early last year, Norton said some of them refused to answer the survey, after making headlines in local media.

“So, you know, the only other way for us to really get that is to ask renters themselves,” Norton said.

Norton said rents at these large complexes are continuing to increase. 

According to the report, the cheapest two-bedroom can be found at Latitude 43, the oldest one of the complexes. There, the median rental rate is $3,000 — though many respondents cite being “grandfathered in” to cheaper rates and new leases starting at over $4,000.

The highest median rent for a two-bedroom, according to the survey results, is at Aspen Meadows, coming in at $3,500.

That’s on top of extra fees for washers and dryers, common areas, HOAs or rental applications. 

Results from the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing survey conducted last year on rental rates in the town’s five major apartment complexes. (Screenshot)

Setting the standard

According to Norton, those five apartment complexes are setting the standard of what’s acceptable for the entire market. 

Survey results show that, on average, other free market housing tends to be cheaper — but highly variable since they’re set by individual landlords. 

“The owners of these market rentals are paying higher property taxes, and then they’re passing on some of those costs to their tenants,” Norton explained.

Results from the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing survey, showing the prices for different size apartments. Though its an outlier, some people are paying as much as $9,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment. (Screenshot)

Norton added that while subsidized workforce housing may not be seen as affordable in the community, survey results show these units are generally cheaper than free market ones.

The report also showed that Spanish speakers are more likely than other residents to live in overcrowded housing, with multiple families living together — though that population only made up about 50 of the 900 respondents. 

Norton said her department is working to better understand the housing needs of the region’s Latino community. She said she plans to work with immigrant advocacy group Voices JH when distributing the next survey, which she said the department plans to conduct on a biannual basis.

“It is something that we think is important to share,” Norton said. “And so we’re trying to find the information the best way we can.”

KHOL staff both currently reside and have previously lived in some of the aforementioned apartment complexes.

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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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