THE BUZZ 2: Redmond Hall Gets Real

By on March 28, 2017

As rental project construction nears, some of Jackson’s workforce hold out for distant dreams of home ownership.

An artist rendering of the Redmon Hall rentals. Construction on the long awaited project begins April 10. (Photo: Jackson Community Housing Trust)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Shovels will move snow, or more likely break ground, April 10 at the corner of Redmond and Hall, marking the beginning construction phase of a 28-unit affordable rental housing project.

That the Jackson Community Housing Trust’s Redmond Hall project offers rental units rather than home ownership was a selling point to elected officials throughout the project’s campaign. Creating rental units is listed as a community priority in the Housing Action Plan, said Housing Trust operations manager Carrie Kruse.

Renting is an arguably more viable option for a workforce whose demographics are constantly evolving, and allows the Housing Trust more long-term control of the units because tenants have to re-qualify to renew their leases. Rental units also generate revenue, which allows opportunities for future projects. “With every affordable ownership product, we’re starting at square one,” Kruse said. “[Rentals] concede future housing opportunities in a way that ownership housing does not.”

But for applicants like Warren Samuels, rental units are not enough. Samuels moved to Jackson with his wife Nikki three years ago, and immediately submitted a Housing Trust application. “We recognized that housing was a real issue right away,” he said. But Samuels, who is the director of admissions at Journeys School, wanted something stable. He wanted to plant roots.

“We’re teachers, and we’re just entering our 30s. We’re not looking to rent.”

A lack of affordable options drove Samuels and his wife to buy a home in Victor last fall, though they are still hopeful to make a home in Jackson, which is why their names remain on the Housing Trust’s applicant list.

Samuels says that the Redmond Hall project is a great idea, but his particular situation also illuminates a huge point of tension in conversations about housing. “People move to Jackson because they love the open space,” he said, “but you can’t really have that from a living perspective in Jackson.” Moving to Victor is a sacrifice he and many others make to live the life they pictured without breaking the bank. “It’s the classic trade-off,” he said. “Do you want to own something you really want and live in Victor, or own something you don’t really want to own and live in Jackson?”

In stark contrast to the valley’s unforgiving winter, Redmond Hall construction is anticipated to begin on a warm spring day. Samuels said this winter was a reminder of just how vital housing in any capacity is in Jackson. During several winter storms that shut down Teton Pass, Samuels was among members of the Jackson workforce who drove through Snake River canyon to get to work. This journey tacked on an additional hour of travel time (sometimes more), making Samuels commute at least two hours each way.

Indeed, each storm reminded the community of its dependence on a commuter workforce. But Redmond Hall’s 28 units will make only a small dent in the valley’s housing crisis. The units will house 55 community members out of the approximately 303 applications on file, representing 596 community members (applications include households of more than one person).

The long Hall

Town and county electeds unanimously voted this month to approve $4.05 million to fund construction of Redmond Hall, which has been in the works since 2014.

Redmond Hall, to be rented below market rate, will offer 19 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units.

This is the first public/private partnership of its kind, explained Mayor Pete Muldoon, so it is difficult to compare dollar amounts with affordable housing projects of the past. It also made reaching a decision to approve funding difficult. Of the $4.05 million the town and county are providing, $1.95 million belongs to the Teton County Housing Authority from the sale of Cheney Lane last fall. But those funds depended on the town’s approval of $2.01 million, and until last month neither town nor county officials were unanimously ready to move forward.

What changed, said the Trust’s executive director Anne Cresswell, was a revision in the plan that affects when the money from town and county will be contributed. Instead of being held in escrow until the project is complete, the public money will be placed in a deposit control account to be used during the construction process.

Muldoon said he is happy with “the willingness of everyone involved to keep working to make the best deal possible.”

“The public asked for a lot,” he said, “and the Trust stepped up and delivered it.”

Construction of the project is expected to take around 18 months, so units should be ready for tenants in June or July of 2018.

This warm winter actually bodes well for the timeline, Cresswell said. There was so much snow that the ground didn’t freeze. “We usually have to wait until the ground thaws,” she noted.

Speaking of rental housing projects, Redmond Hall is not the only one on the horizon—restaurateur Joe Rice is waiting to hear the fate of a proposed Land Development Regulation (LDR) text amendment so he can build up to 90 units on 550 W. Broadway.

But the proposed amendment has stirred contention. It would exempt Rice’s privately funded project, Sagebrush Apartments, and all future apartment complexes of more than 10 units, from affordable housing standards. This would allow landlords to rent all units at market price. Currently developers are required to designate at least 25 percent of units as “affordable” (to be rented below market value).

Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilmen Jim Stanford and Bob Lenz expressed their reservations at a March 20 town council meeting while Councilor Hailey Morton-Levinson supported the amendment. Councilor Don Frank was not in attendance.

Sagebrush Apartments would include a combination of single- and double-bedroom apartments, as well as studios.

Muldoon says he is not convinced that Sagebrush Apartments, and all subsequent apartment projects, would be “inherently affordable,” as Rice and his team argue it is due to the apartment complex’s density.

The town council will resume discussion on the text amendment at its April 3 meeting. PJH

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