Any time government steps in to solve a problem it creates two or more problems of equal or greater magnitude. That maxim seems to describe Teton County Housing Authority (TCHA), a local government attempt to make housing more affordable for public employees and lower income private sector workers.
Everyone else is weighing in on this issue. It is time for some simple cowboy common sense to be applied.
First, this cowboy operates from the premise that almost no one in government deliberately starts out to cause or exacerbate a problem. They are generally good-hearted and have good intentions. They are usually competent in trying to resolve issues. They do the best they can under the circumstances and under the parameters they are given. Having said that, bureaucratic ineptitude is almost a proverb. Why? Because it is someone else’s money. A worthy project seems to get out of control under government oversight.
The Problem: Housing was and is very expensive in Jackson Hole. Some public employees, such as law enforcement and school teachers, don’t make enough to afford to own a home in Teton County. Business employees in the private sector have the same housing problem. This created a worker shortage, both in the public and private sector. So government decided to do something about it. They got into the housing business by building and buying “affordable” homes and apartment units with taxpayer dollars. Affordable for the worker, not for the taxpayer.
The plan was to construct basic home and apartment units with nothing fancy. This new local government agency would rent them out for only the cost of maintenance or sell them below the cost of construction. The benefits, it was argued, would allow some public servants to live close to their jobs. This would allow a policeman to be close in case he is needed. This would cut down on commuting for many people. The money to pay for this comes from a one percent sales tax entitled Specific Purpose Excise Tax or SPET. Tourists pay about 40% of the amount generated. We locals pay the rest.
Almost without exception every TCHA project has cost way more than projected and taken much longer than scheduled, which is typical of government. Inflation and other factors drive the costs up. The Grove is a prime example, costing millions more than planned. How many homes and apartments do you suppose TCHA manages which are now occupied, under construction, or in planning stages? Well, guess. Nope. Your guess of fifty or one hundred or even two hundred isn’t even close. Would you believe 868 homes and apartment units are being administered by TCHA? (according to Housing Authority Executive Director Stacy Stoker) That is ridiculous in a county with less than 25,000 residents.
As with most government programs, it lends itself to abuse. Some who originally obtained affordable housing are now upper middle class but still living at the expense of the taxpayer because they qualified for the housing subsidy years ago when their wages were much lower. Recently one man on a START bus confided to a friend of mine that the only way he and his family could afford season ski passes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village was the public housing they are living in. Folks, a season pass is $1,760 for one adult. I, for one, don’t like my tax dollars subsidizing his recreation. TCHA employees monitor the program but it is impossible to find all violations of the regulations. At least two TCHA officials are living in public housing units in the program. I suppose they are public employees with lower income so they may qualify, but I doubt it. Some of these homes are very pricey but TCHA sells them for hundreds of thousands less than appraised value.
A fancy home reminds me of this story. Scotland Yard was in an uproar. It seems someone had stolen the Queen’s throne. They put out an APB to find the throne, offering a substantial reward. A tip came in from a rural area. Under cover of darkness law enforcement sneaked up on the house, an ultra-modern dwelling consisting almost entirely of windows. Through the windows they could see the throne inside. They moved in and nabbed the thief. The moral of this story is, (are you ready for the groaner?) “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.”
Teton County Housing Authority shouldn’t stow homes, much less expensive ones. Government should get completely out of the housing business. Sell all the homes and apartment units. With the proceeds give a one-time grant to school and law enforcement to buy homes for their employees to rent. If the employee wishes to purchase a home, they can save their money and buy one in the private sector like others have done, without tax subsidies.
Cowboy common sense would say let local businesses, schools and law enforcement deal with housing issues of their employees. That may take the form of increased salary or housing subsidies provided by the entity. But the taxpayer should not pay the bill; not even the tourist taxpayer.
“Remember, life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”