Tenants are banding collectively to deal with Jackson’s housing disaster. Can they repair it?

JACKSON — Clare Stumpf and Kelsey Wotzka sighed and plopped down on the curb. Time for a break.

The pair broke out some cookies and crackers and watched automobiles putter down Willow Avenue. It was 3 p.m. on a late October Saturday, and East Jackson was fairly quiet.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf, left, and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka canvass the neighborhood of East Jackson on Oct. 29 forward of the November election. They requested if residents had a voting plan and inspired folks to again measures designed to enhance the provision of inexpensive housing. 

Door hangers that mentioned issues corresponding to “Shelter JH voter cheat sheet” and “Vote for the neighborhood housing SPET measure No. 12” poked out of the ladies’s coat pockets.

Stumpf and Wotzka had spent the final three hours knocking on doorways for Shelter JH, a neighborhood housing advocacy group.

The aim was to rally help for a poll measure — Particular Excise Tax No. 12 — that might put aside $20 million in county tax {dollars} for neighborhood housing initiatives. The overall election was simply 10 days away.

Their work wasn’t over but — they nonetheless had a couple of extra houses to go to. Squinting at Stumpf’s cellphone, they plotted a plan of action.

Persons are additionally studying…

“What would make sense can be to stroll down Willow,” mentioned Wotzka, her finger hovering over a map on the display. “After which possibly go after these 4? After which possibly these two?”

“Simply inform me what to do,” Stumpf joked. “I’m prepared to take a look at mentally.”

There’s a saying in Jackson: You both have three homes, or you’ve three jobs.

The valley is beloved for its world-class leisure alternatives, lovely views and its charming-yet-cosmopolitan downtown.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka use an app to assist determine particular houses with public information whereas they canvas on Oct. 29 in East Jackson. Shelter JH is a grassroots group working to deal with housing insecurity within the space. 

That’s made it a high trip spot for the nation’s rich — Teton was the richest county within the nation as of 2019, in keeping with IRS knowledge.

That clientele is each the lifeblood and scourge of Jackson’s economic system. Whereas they flush the valley with cash, in addition they gobble up its housing inventory. And the city can’t merely construct extra houses to compensate. Jackson is surrounded by federal lands, that are protected against personal improvement.

That’s despatched the native housing market into the stratosphere. As of the second quarter of this yr, the common hire for a studio in Jackson was about $2,639 a month, in keeping with knowledge from the Jackson/Teton County Reasonably priced Housing Division. By comparability, a median two-bedroom condominium in Casper prices about $1,000 a month, in keeping with knowledge printed by rental web site Zumper.

Hospitality and tourism employees, academics, bus drivers, cops and even medical doctors can battle to search out locations to stay there. And after they do, they’re prohibitively costly.

“At a sure level, housing turns into so scarce that it begins to choke off elements of the economic system which might be actually vital, just like the hospitality sector, that depend upon lower-wage employees to do the help work,” Rob Godby, an economics professor on the College of Wyoming, mentioned.

The neighborhood should make some tough, and maybe unconventional, selections to maintain employees afloat, he mentioned.

However although Jackson’s labor drive has essentially the most at stake, it’s underrepresented within the native political scene.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka use an app to assist determine particular houses with public information to help canvassing the neighborhood of East Jackson. 

Its city council and the Teton County Fee has traditionally been dominated by older, wealthier residents. And although Teton County is about 22% p.c Hispanic and Latino, its high electeds are overwhelmingly white.

Voter apathy isn’t the issue.

Everybody’s heartbroken, indignant, about what’s taking place, Stumpf and Wotzka mentioned — about always having to hustle simply to get by, about having to discover a new condominium each six months due to hire hikes, about feeling like a stranger in your individual city as a result of so lots of your mates needed to transfer away.

“Persons are fired up,” mentioned Wotzka.

The issue is determining convey them collectively.

Jackson’s workforce is extremely transient; many individuals simply stick round for a summer time or winter.

Those that do work within the valley year-round typically commute from outdoors Teton County, the place the hire is cheaper — locations like Alpine, Star Valley and even up over the move to Victor, Idaho. Meaning they’ll’t vote in native elections.

Others merely don’t have time for politics. They’re too busy working three jobs, in spite of everything.

So how do you manage such an atomized labor drive?

That’s what Shelter JH is attempting to determine.

Stumpf and Wotzka approached their first goal: a house off King Avenue. It regarded quintessentially suburban — a split-level type home with mild yellow paint.

“We’re canvassing right this moment to speak to folks about voting,” Stumpf referred to as out to a resident within the driveway.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf, left, and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka canvass the neighborhood of East Jackson on Oct. 29 forward of the November election. Voters solid ballots on a number of measures that pertained to housing. 

After some transient back-and-forth, Stumpf and Wotzka retreated.

They’d requested him if he deliberate to help measure No. 12, however he didn’t chew.

“He was like, ‘Isn’t that more cash out of my pocket?’” Wotzka mentioned.

About 60% of the tax is funded by out-of-state guests, they’d countered. However the resident thought that quantity sounded fishy, Wotzka mentioned. (The statistic comes from the Teton County web site.)

In left-leaning Jackson, the place housing is persistently a high voter concern, the neighborhood housing proposal may not seem to be a tough promote.

However there have been 4 different housing-related measures on the poll. If handed, they’d eat up a whopping $85 million in county tax cash.

Whereas Shelter JH supported all the proposals, No. 12 appeared to be falling behind within the polls.

“What I’ve heard is, folks don’t actually know what it’s,” Wotzka mentioned.


Housing is already an all-hands-on-deck scenario in Jackson.

The Jackson/Teton County Reasonably priced Housing Division works with builders to get new housing initiatives off the bottom. Its city council has handed loads of guidelines (like zoning rules) to protect current inventory. There’s an emergency shelter for folks with nowhere to go.

Shelter JH

Jackson resident Dawson Smith speaks with Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka, who had been canvassing the neighborhood of East Jackson for the group Shelter JH.

However there wasn’t a company in Jackson devoted purely to housing advocacy.

Shelter JH was created to fill that void. It holds itself out as grassroots — a gaggle for Jackson employees, by Jackson employees. The thought is that, in alternate for membership charges ($20 yearly), they get extra direct illustration in vital housing-related choices.

Again in 2019, Shelter JH despatched management to the statehouse to talk towards a invoice that might have outlawed rules Jackson had lengthy relied on to protect its housing inventory.

Members get to attend Shelter JH conferences — which, in keeping with its web site, typically offers them a personal viewers with policymakers. They will additionally elect folks to the group’s board. Proper now, there are 9 board members, together with Wotzka.

A lot of the board is below 40, and is aware of firsthand what it’s wish to battle with housing instability. (Wotzka mentioned her hire went up by a 3rd final yr.)

The group additionally serves as an info and useful resource hub. It retains its viewers apprised of housing alternatives — say, by posting on social media when a deed-restricted workforce rental unit is on the market.

It additionally lays out easy, easy methods for members to be politically lively. These door hangers Stumpf and Wotzka handed out, for example, listed all of Shelter JH’s endorsements and defined when and vote. Along with canvassing, it additionally recruited volunteers for a cellphone banking marketing campaign.

Earlier this month, Shelter JH hosted an election training occasion at a neighborhood Thai restaurant that’s slated to be demolished to make manner for luxurious condos. Members obtained free beer.

These sorts of advocacy organizations exist already for realtors, landlords and native companies. However even if even essentially the most rural communities are fighting rising housing prices and dwindling provide as of late, membership-based housing teams for employees and renters are nonetheless comparatively uncommon.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf, proper ,and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka canvass the neighborhood of East Jackson forward of the November election. 

The closest equal could also be tenant unions, that are cropping up in huge cities like New York and L.A. They primarily assist renters navigate disputes with their landlords.

However whereas Mountain West states like Colorado, Utah and Idaho all have housing advocacy teams, they don’t appear to be tenant unions or Shelter JH. They could present housing training, foyer for coverage and assist folks struggling to search out houses, however they’re not membership-based. When they’re, their members often include housing trade professionals.

Shelter JH, its leaders argue, is giving the Jackson neighborhood the unified voice it’s by no means had — “a spot for folks to place their anger,” Wotzka mentioned.

East Jackson is the place you could find a number of the city’s oldest subdivisions, and even right this moment is thought to be a holdout for Jackson’s core neighborhood.

There are modest single-family homes — the type that will have been starter houses once-upon-a-time. There are dingy-but-charming trip leases with unpaved driveways, unkempt lawns and porches adorned with animal skulls and antlers. There are cellular houses and campers.

Then there are the newer, dearer properties.

Take, for instance, the big cinder block-esque constructing on the intersection of Kelly Avenue and Vine Avenue.

It’s nonetheless below development, however will finally be used to retailer the artwork assortment of a hedge fund supervisor who died in 2019, the Jackson Gap Information&Information reported in 2020.

In mid October, somebody had vandalized the facet of the constructing with blue spray-paint. “Why does our well-being depend upon the philanthropy of the wealthy??” they wrote in uppercase, scrawling letters.

Stumpf and Wotzka began their route at about 1 p.m. It was round 35 levels outdoors, and though snow was beginning to pile up on the mountains, the slopes weren’t open but. The proper time to catch folks at residence, in different phrases.

Stumpf’s cellphone led the way in which. She had an app designed to assist political organizations and campaigns canvas extra effectively.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka canvass the neighborhood of East Jackson for the group Shelter JH. 

The app makes use of public voter knowledge — “all of the totally different sorts of information sources that the person has on you,” in Stumpf’s phrases — to map out what sorts of voters stay the place.

With it, Shelter JH was capable of put collectively a listing of households that are likely to align with their pursuits, however aren’t dependable voters.

Time was of the essence, and the crew needed to keep away from participating individuals who may already be counted on to vote someway.

Whereas that cuts down on a number of the guesswork of canvassing, the app wasn’t at all times correct.

It’s Jackson — folks shuffle between housing like a sport of musical chairs. You by no means actually know who’s going to reply the door.

The crew walked as much as their second home, and knocked on the door.

A person in a blue-and-green flannel gown emerged. He was carrying a colourful shirt beneath. It scattered mild just like the again of a CD.

It was a part of his Halloween costume final evening, the person mentioned. He was a wizard.

Stumpf requested him about his voting plans.

“We’re gunning actually exhausting for SPET measure 12,” she mentioned.

“That’s the large one?” the person requested. “What’s that do for us?”

“It’s the one housing measure that’s not tied to employment,” Wotzka mentioned. “So it’s actually vital, since you ought to be capable to give up your job or retire and never lose your home.”

Stumpf pressed some door hangers into his palm.

“Will you give these to your mates?” she requested. “And inform ’em to vote?”

Is Shelter JH engaging in what it got down to do?

Properly, the group remains to be fairly new. It was created in 2016, however struggled to achieve momentum for a couple of years.

“We had eight members after I joined,” mentioned Stumpf. She was employed on because the group’s coordinator in April 2020. Since then, they’ve additionally welcomed one other employees member, Blanca Moye, who helps serve Jackson’s Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

Shelter JH has, little question, made a reputation for itself in Teton County. They’ve efficiently advocated for adjustments to native housing legal guidelines, together with amending insurance policies that discriminate towards tenants primarily based on immigration standing, in keeping with its web site.

They’ve additionally solid relationships with native authorities and different housing organizations within the valley. Stumpf was appointed to a board that advises the Jackson/Teton County Reasonably priced Housing Division on housing provide issues, for example.

And so they’re rising. Shelter JH now has roughly 550 members, Stumpf and Wotzka mentioned.


Stumpf and Wotzka walked as much as a gaggle of gray-brown townhomes on Simpson Avenue.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH Coordinator Claire Stumpf and Improvement Chair Kelsey Wotzka, heart, communicate with resident Daneil Narea in East Jackson. Shelter JH is a grassroots group trying to deal with Teton County’s housing disaster. 

They caught Dawson Smith — clad in a baseball cap, flannel and fishing boots — adjusting the bike rack on the again of his automotive.

Smith works in actual property, fundraising and tourism. He was aware of the poll measures, he mentioned, and would in all probability again all of the housing proposals.

“You need my housing story?” he requested.

When he first moved to Jackson in 2006, he was envious of the older locals.

“We had been at all times like, ‘Oh man, these of us had moved in within the mid ’90s, they don’t understand how good they obtained it,’” Smith mentioned.

Now he’s considered one of them. He and his spouse purchased one of many townhomes in 2014 for $390,000, he mentioned.

A buddy of Stumpf’s used to hire one other one of many townhomes, however just lately obtained kicked out as a result of the owner needed to promote it, she mentioned. Stumpf simply noticed it listed for $1.19 million.

In all, Shelter JH knocked on greater than 1,000 doorways and referred to as 2,000 voters forward of the election, in keeping with a Nov. 11 publish on its Fb web page. It was capable of recruit 35 volunteers to the trigger.

The group was fairly proud of the outcomes.

When the large day lastly rolled round, all 15 tax proposals on the poll handed — together with No. 12, the neighborhood housing measure. It acquired about 64% approval from voters.

The neighborhood additionally elected 5 of seven of Shelter JH’s endorsed candidates to positions on the municipal, county and state stage.

It’ll take Teton County between eight and 9 years to gather the tax cash to pay for the 15 measures, in keeping with the county’s web site.

Again on that late October Saturday, Stumpf and Wotzka canvassed 70 houses by the afternoon’s finish, by Stumpf’s estimate. She and Wotzka walked again to their automotive, which was parked at Phil Baux Park.

Shelter JH

Shelter JH canvasser Kelsey Wotzka walks close to some latest grafitti that was painted on a newly constructed artwork vault for a person, now deceased, in East Jackson. 

Jackson remains to be a “for now” for a lot of neighborhood members, Wotzka mentioned, and that’s not more likely to change anytime quickly. She’s unsure how lengthy she’ll be capable to stick round.

“It’s unbelievable to stay out right here,” Wotzka mentioned. “It’s simply exhausting. And it’s a must to notice, ‘That’s OK, I’m gonna sacrifice a couple of years of fairness I may have been gaining elsewhere to stay right here.

“… ‘Trigger I wish to stay right here.”

However possibly sooner or later, folks received’t should make that very same sacrifice.

They obtained into the automotive and drove off.

It was about 4 p.m. Time for a break. They’d be knocking on extra doorways tomorrow.


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