A late spring rainstorm fell on a group of housing activists who showed up to complain that elected officials had not done enough about housing. Elected officials from the Town and County, meanwhile, moved forward on a joint decision to fund the Housing Trust project on Redmond Street.
The two efforts collided Monday evening at the town hall on Pearl Street. The Shelter JH group says the town council is just saying “no to every idea that comes up,” and they are circulating a petition supporting immediate solutions for housing. In part, the petition states that they say “yes to shelter and housing for our neighbors – even in our backyards, our front yards, our public land, and our streets. We support policy solutions like allowing trailers on public land in town and allowing people to park RVs overnight in our public parking lots driveways and streets. We call on the Jackson Town Council to take emergency action now.”
That action includes a “Trailer Town” wherein the group would seek property, zoning, and money from taxpayers to pay to “bring in fully-equipped trailers as safe year-round housing for hard-working families” The temporary ‘town’ could be located at the fairgrounds or at Stilson Ranch, the activists said.
Another proposal is to create a permit system so workers could sleep in RV’s or automobiles in public parking lots such as the Home Ranch lot on North Cache. In this plan permits would require proof of employment and a fee to cover administration. Would be campers would be required to leave the parking lots first thing in the morning.
The group also wants a system where “workers can buy a permit to sleep in RVs or vehicles on public streets in the summer. Permits also require proof of employment and a fee. and the town and county can decide which streets are appropriate.”
While the protesters gathered, the Town and County held their Joint Information Meeting where county commissioners joined the town council in committing funding for the Housing Trust’s Redmond Street rental project.
Commissioner Natalia Macker told her fellow elected officials that the time had come to divest properties previously purchased by the Housing Authority but never developed. Macker in expressed frustration with the length of the process. “We have a shovel-ready project that we could invest in if we chose to”, Macker said, “If we wait, and keep waiting for the perfect solution, we are never going to build anything.”
At the evening meeting, Mayor Flitner and the town council listened to about an hour of comments about the housing shortage in the valley.
Jorge Moreno told councilmembers that the situation is an emergency. “I am here for those who are still working, cleaning, cooking and doing the jobs that keep this community alive,” he said, “It’s obvious that we need help.”
Jackson native Jack McGuire told the council that he has, over his lifetime, watched the housing problem go from bad to worse. “My teachers, coaches, and coworkers have to commute here every day from Alpine and Victor during rain, heavy snow and sunshine just to work in this community that they cannot afford to live in.” McGuire said he lives with his parents because there is nowhere he can afford to live in Jackson.
Eleven-year resident and Public Defender Elisabeth Trefonas commented that as a renter, she regularly questions whether she will stay in Jackson. Trefonas told the council that she was begging for help.
“Last summer as a public defender, I had numerous people ask me if they could stay in jail,” she said. “That’s not the way this is supposed to work.”
Executive Director of the Housing Trust, Anne Cresswell, addressed the council and said she is optimistic. “We have done more heavy lifting on housing in the last six months and in the next six months I see more opportunities for long-term and short-term housing than I have seen in the last 13 years.”
Mayor Flitner told the assembly about the things are underway on housing now, including the Redmond rental project and a current exploration of accessory residential units in some parts of town.
She also highlighted the increase of commuter bus service to Teton Valley, Idaho, and ride-sharing to other communities such as Pinedale. Flitner also highlighted a planned housing module for the parks and recreation department as well as plans to build housing for START bus employees.
The mayor told the crowd, “You have people in the community who care and are working non-stop,” to find solutions. “You have my commitment and that of this council that it is what we will continue to do.”