Jackson, Wyoming Has Growing Minority Population And A Housing Issue

Sep 12, 2018

Credit Town of Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson Hole, which was visited by the City Tour group last week, is similar to Park City, since it also has a housing problem and a large Hispanic work population.

The town's Director of Affordable Housing, April Norton, talked about their proposed solutions, a protest at the Town Hall, and some bad close encounters with ICE.

Norton said Jackson has to reach out and provide services to a growing non-white population.

“Thirty-five percent of our population is non-white most of those are Hispanic, most of those are from Mexico. I’d say the vast majority of the adults are not documented and most of the children are. The example I give is I have a four-year-old daughter and when she starts Kindergarten next year she will be a minority in her class. It’s something you don’t see when you walk around Jackson. You see a bunch of white people walking around but we’ve got a really strong and impassionate minority group here.”

She said that ICE officers have been in town a couple of times, and the impact has been brutal.

“We’ve seen families ripped apart; we’ve seen people get dragged out of their businesses where they worked when they had no criminal record. It really has scared people tremendously and it scared the adults, but it scared the children even more. There’s a recent study that a local non-profit put out called 122 and they worked with a lot of families that are barely making it. What the study showed us is that the effect on the children is tremendous. Its children being scared all the time, and these are children who are U.S. citizens.”

Concerning housing, she said their goal is to house 65 percent of their workforce within the town. Right now, they're housing 57 percent, and that's trending up by three-to-four-percent from a few years ago.

“We’ve done a pretty extensive needs assessment. We understand that based on our job growth which is at three-and-a-half percent annually we need about 200-280 units every year for the workforce. They don’t have to all be deed-restricted but a mix of rental a mix of ownership. We’re creating jobs we’re losing workers to retirement.”

She said she has her own personal example of how retirement affects the housing stock.

“My example is always my in-laws. My mother-in-law is a CPA she retired a few years ago, my father-in-law will retire next year he’s the president of an engineering firm. When they retire the people, who take their jobs will not be able to buy their house and will be looking for a place to live. Their house will then convert from a workforce unit to a non-workforce unit. They will still be giving back to the community and important to our community character but it terms of that workforce number we use that unit. When they go to sell it, it probably won’t sell to somebody in the workforce.”

Norton said the city is trying to follow the three "P's" for solutions. They will "purchase" land for housing--"Partner" with private entities to build housing--and "Preserve" units that already exist.

“That may be through different approaches, down-payment assistance, purchasing restrictions on units, converting ownership units to rentals for the town or the county employees. Really there’s no silver bullet unfortunately.”

The issue even brought a demonstration to Town Hall, in reaction to a proposed hotel project.

“It was a great mix of white, non-white individuals in the community. They marched on town hall in the rain. Over 100 people demanding, I think their tagline was ‘houses not hotels’ asking the elected officials to at least when something like a hotel gets developed to require that they build housing. I would say that the council has responded to that in our new mitigation rates that they against some pushback from the business community, but they held firm. There was an attempt on a referendum of those new mitigation rates that failed which I think is a reflection of a lot of public outreach that was done and certainly the public sentiment that is new businesses they need to mitigate for the employees they’re creating.”