[This story has been updated with information on the second homeowner fee and how funds will be earmarked.-Ed]
This week Rep. Mike Yin-D, Jackson, will introduce a bill to legislative committees with major implications for the valley.
His legislation would charge a fee to second homeowners in Teton County.
That would affect a sizable number of homeowners. According to the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department, 38% of homes are occupied by second homeowners, retirees or left vacant.
After a legislative committee voted in September to revisit a bill that would gut Jackson’s affordable housing program, Yin has been thinking about legislation that could provide relief for people struggling to find housing. “One of the ways I would like to see us help incentivize more people that work in Teton County to live in Teton County is to figure out how we can make the best use of the housing we already have,” he said.
The number of people commuting into Teton County to work each day represents nearly 35% of the county’s population. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported that 8,000 people from other counties get behind the wheel daily to clock in at their jobs in the valley. Those commuters are increasing the valley’s carbon footprint, contributing to congestion and intensifying the likelihood of wildlife collisions. For those who live in the same place they work, rents are not keeping pace with wages. Forty-four percent of local renters are spending more than 30% of their income on rent, according to the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment.
Yin’s bill would affect second homeowners who leave their houses unocuppied at least six months out of the year. The flat fee would be based on square footage not property value. Yin said such a fee could incentivize second homeowners to rent out their homes to the local workforce.
Money collected would go to Wyoming’s Property Tax Refund program, benefitting people statewide who make under 75% of the median household income for their respective county. “It’s a program intended to provide tax relief for all,” Yin said. “Teton County is in a place where it could provide more tax relief for everyone in the state while at the same time addressing our housing issues.”
If the bill passed, Jackson would join another North American city exploring novel ways to solve its housing crisis. In 2016, the City of Vancouver, Canada, enacted the first “Empty Homes Tax” in North America. It is part of the city’s solution to lessen pressure on a tight rental market where 53% of households rent their homes. (Data from the State of Wyoming shows that 30 percent of people in Teton County rent their homes.)
The money collected from Vancouver’s tax is directed to its affordable housing department. According to a 2017 report issued by the City of Vancouver, it raised $38 million ($29 million USD) in its first year.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Yin.