Comments on Teton County – Town of Jackson Housing Supply Plan 2017-2021

It is inappropriate to use public money to subsidize the housing for private sector employees. Housing subsidies are appropriate for people who are disabled, and if necessary for public employees: first responders, nurses, teachers, etc. To the extent that the affordable housing supply program is subsidized with taxpayer funds it’s really an “affordable employee program” that benefits the employer class, and the wealthy class who have an interest in cheap labor. Housing subsidies for private sector workers are really wage subsidies for their employers. It’s wrong for private entities to ask the taxpayers to subsidies their employees.

All 2,400 units that are allocated to increase the density of Town should be deed restricted for local workforce occupancy. Every single one. Letting any of these units enter the market without deed restrictions will only add to our traffic and workforce housing problems. Every additional unit added through this program should also be be restricted in square footage, so they are modest in size. There should be no price or rent caps, so that employers aren’t let off the hook for paying for the true cost of their employees. Otherwise, we will be inadvertently subsidizing the commercial expansion and job creation that is leading to our overpopulation problem, and that perpetuates our clogged roads and workforce housing deficit.

Regarding traffic, All these reallocated units should be located in the urban commercial core that stretches from Smiths to Dairy Queen. This is where density belongs. This is where people can live lives that don’t revolve around car ownership. The farther you get from the commercial urban core the more necessary it is to have a car. There should be no parking minimum requirement on these deed restricted units, in fact parking maximums should be considered.

Political Theater

At the joint meeting of the Town Council and County Commission today we saw a well choreographed example of political theater by Don Frank and Sarah Flitner. Flitner initially voted for the proposal to use SPET to fund the so-called Community Priorities Fund (You know it’s a bad thing when they use euphemisms to name the tax.), with Frank voting holding out for his 1/2 penny SPET plus 1/2 penny General Sales Tax compromise. The SPET proposal failed. Then both Frank and Flitner jumped on the General Sales Tax bandwagon when the next vote was taken having made their token gestures for political cover. Rhea, Macker, Newcomb, and Stanford voted consistently for the General Fund tax and against the SPET. Vogelheim, Lenz and Allen voted consistently against the General Sales Tax and for the SPET.

With Flitner and Frank’s support the General Sales Tax proposal carried the day and will be presented as a resolution in February. If it is passed by the electeds then the voters will get to decide in the November general elections. The proposal will be to eliminate the 6th cent SPET tax and replace it with a 6th cent General Sales Tax. The SPET needs to be for specific amounts of money for specific projects each approved by the voters. The General Sales Tax can be used by the electeds at their discretion, and can’t be repealed by the voters for 4 years.

All you need to know is that if this passes in November then all the special interests that always have their hands out for SPET will push with all their might to have SPET reinstated as a 7th cent.

Will the voters have the wisdom and the will to reject this massive expansion of local government? Government grows, hires more employees, gives out more subsidies, until a majority of the valley is dependent on government. Free markets, freedom, and independence will then be permanently replaced by dependence, waste, cronyism and an invasive local government that will do it’s best to manage every aspect of our lives.

At What Cost?

Last week’s News and Guide editorial sung the praises of the new START Town Shuttle routes. The new routes are indeed more convenient, but I take issue with some of the statements made in the editorial.

The START Bus system currently claims to reduce single occupancy car trips by around 1%. If START is able to achieve the Integrated Transportation Plan’s ambitious goal of doubling ridership in the next ten years it will then be able to claim that it reduces those car trips by around 2%. It’s hard to see how that kind of minuscule reduction in vehicle trips will have much affect on our valley’s traffic woes. My conclusion is that – like pathways – START is a very nice amenity, but not a game changer when it comes to our traffic gridlock.

Tens of millions of dollars will need to be spent in order to attempt to achieve and maintain the goal of doubling START ridership. This is a very extravagant amenity, and the cost of START isn’t only financial. For example, the Town Shuttle currently sends 66 buses each day into the quiet residential neighborhoods east of Redmond to serve very few riders – on average less than one rider per bus. In the case of far east Jackson START is dramatically adding to the traffic rather than reducing it, and is damaging the character of those neighborhoods by relentlessly trolling large essentially empty buses up and down narrow residential streets. Empty buses are not environmentally friendly.

START’s growth in ridership has actually been stagnant since 2008/2009. It’s quite possible that a significant number of the people who wish to ride the bus already do so. Rather than pouring tens of millions of dollars into START in a futile attempt to reach unrealistic ridership goals that even if reached will have little positive effect on our traffic problem, local government should work to reduce the expensive burden START places on the taxpayers, and fight the urbanization of our quiet neighborhoods by focusing START resources on the routes and times of day that will ensure full buses.

I think we can all agree that START is a useful amenity, and that we need START to be as efficient and effective as possible. Let’s move in the direction of a lean, intelligently targeted, transit system, not a bloated system that eats up huge chunks of taxpayer dollars and damages our quiet neighborhoods with big city bus traffic.

Corporate Welfare

We must not raise taxes or use taxpayer money to subsidize workforce housing for the private sector.

Our affordable housing problem is a problem between employers and employees, and the government should not get in the middle. If employers are having trouble filling positions they need to either pay higher wages, subsidize housing for their employees, or rework their business plans to operate more efficiently.

To require the general public to subsidize workforce housing through government subsidies creates a windfall not only for the lucky individuals who are able to take advantage of large housing subsidies, but more importantly a windfall for employers who are able to enjoy having the taxpayers pay part of their employee costs. This is a blatant form of corporate welfare, and only throws more fuel on the fire of our overheated economy by publicly subsidizing private commercial enterprises.

Why are we even talking about low wage jobs in a community that has negative unemployment?

Take for instance the controversial rent increases at Blair Place; those increases could be mitigated by a $2 or $3 per hour raise in wages for the average tenant, but as long as the government is ready to rush in and subsidize housing costs businesses will continue to avoid paying the full cost of their employees, and the taxpayer will continue to get the shaft.

If employers can’t fill low wage positions then wages should rise until those positions become attractive to potential employees, and if higher wages create a headwind to economic growth is that really a problem in the current local economic climate? Slower growth would mean, fewer jobs, less traffic, and less demand for workforce housing.

Do not raise taxes, and do not use taxpayer money to subsidize workforce housing for the private sector. Those are the “do nots”. Here are the “dos”:

1) Do Use taxpayer money to subsidize housing for PUBLIC sector employees. We are all stakeholders in local government, and we have an interest in making sure it provides it’s services as efficiently and at as low a cost as possible.

2) Do create well crafted incentives to spur the private sector to develop high density workforce housing in the core urbanized areas of Town.