Housing Hassle: Affordable housing rules are getting an overhaul in Jackson and surrounding

By on December 6, 2017

Burning village painting at encampment for Darfur. (Photo by Future Atlas via Flickr Creative Commons)

Affordable housing changes are a’comin’ to Teton County.

If you’re one of the (unlucky) ones on the mile-long list for affordable housing in Teton County, you should know that the rules may be slightly different by the time you get your name and number called.

Thee Housing Department has been working with the Town and County Planning Departments since May on a number of new affordable and employment-based housing changes, and the final directives were issued earlier this month.

The changes, meant to address lingering questions about affordable housing in Teton County, will dictate who qualifies to live in affordable, employment-based, attainable, employee and workforce homes and what restrictions apply to living in a Housing Department home.

The directives will also be used to draft new Housing Rules and Regulations, which means that these changes are pretty darn important.

Prior to the new directives, the requirement for qualification was that one person in the household must work at least an average of 30 hours per week in Teton County.

The new directive keeps the 30 hour per week average, but retirees will no longer be eligible to purchase or rent a restricted home.

The new directives also state that it is no longer required for one person in the household to be a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident to rent a restricted unit, which should make it easier for Teton County residents without citizenship or resident paperwork to qualify for affordable housing.

The types of assets used to calculate eligibility for restricted housing are also changing, and anything worth more than $500 can be counted. Retirement accounts are still o limits when calculating assets, though, and only liquid business assets will be included. Residential property within 150 miles of Teton County must also be sold for an applicant to qualify and the asset limit is twice the income limit for a 4-person household.

Prior to the new directives, the time households were required to occupy a unit varied: 10 months for affordable, 9 months for attainable and 10 months for employment-based housing.

Under the new directives, occupants are required to stay in the units 10 months across the board.

The 30 percent rule — or the rule that 30 percent of a household’s income should be spent on housing — will remain in place.

Renters will also continue to prove they still qualify at lease renewal under the new directives, but a big change is coming for homeowners who purchase restricted housing.

As with rentals, homeowners who purchase restricted housing will now be required to provide employment and income verification annually. That’s a significant departure from the previous policy in which buyers of affordable and attainable units were only required to qualify at the time they purchased the home.

But it’s not just qualification restrictions that are changing under the new directives. There are also changes coming to the way rental rates for JTCHA-owned units and employee housing units are determined.

Home valuation for resale will now be capped at 3 percent, which is an increase of about .5 percent from the prior valuation.

But while the rules for valuation and qualification are cut and dry, the renting and subletting directives aren’t as clear. The commissioners did not vote on the options presented to them, and instead voted to allow rentals and subletting in both affordable and employment-based units as long as a fee or some portion of the rent is returned to the Housing Department.

That option will require approval from the Housing Department, and would presumably allow renters in affordable units to sublet apartments or rent out spare rooms in their units.

The Council and Commissioners also decided on an alternative lottery system regarding the buying and selling of affordable housing. The process will allow households who meet the minimum occupancy for the unit to have a chance to be selected first in the lottery, and the amount of entries in the lottery a household receives will be based on the amount of points they have. This lottery process will be used for both employment and affordable housing, with points given for years working in Teton County and Critical Services Providers.

While none of the directives are a huge departure from the status quo, some of these changes are a step in the right direction. Teton County shouldn’t be punishing families who don’t have citizenship or resident paperwork, and the removal of the restriction is the right thing to do.

What the directives don’t — and perhaps can’t — address is how to handle the massive, and ever-growing, list of Teton County residents who are waiting for an open unit. Most, if not all of the affordable units across the Teton Pass are also full, and this is the slow season in the area.

Bigger changes are necessary to help accommodate the swelling population in Jackson and surrounding Teton County, but for now, these will have to do. PJH

About Angelica Leicht

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