Housing problems have spilled over to Jackson’s dormitory areas, which have their own commuters | City and County


Standing behind the counter at Family Dollar in Driggs, Idaho, the store’s assistant manager chatted with a visitor from Logan, Utah, recounting her journey from St. Anthony to the north end of Teton Valley.

“Going here, someone was going 35 in a 65,” Bekah Hunter, 20, said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘I can’t. I’m going to tear my hair out.

Visitor from Utah, Tom Sherlock, 42, laughed. But he was surprised to hear how long Hunter’s journey took.

“An hour to work here,” Sherlock said, shaking his head. “It’s quite a journey.”

This ride shows how the gap between where the jobs are and where the workers live extends far beyond Jackson Hole.

With COVID-19-induced demand pushing up house prices in Teton County, Wyoming, more people have moved west to Idaho and south to Lincoln County . This exodus, coupled with the outward demand for housing in the greater Teton area, has triggered changes in nearby towns like Alpine, Driggs and Swan Valley which in some ways mirror what is happening in Jackson, but perhaps at a lower price. The cost of living is rising and more affordable housing – if people can find housing – is hard to find.

“We see people going to what we think of as our suburban towns,” said April Norton, director of the Jackson / Teton County Housing Department.

“And I think so, it’s kind of a natural progression,” Norton said. “It is certainly, in my opinion, a threat to us, because as these other communities become more established, people will stop commuting here.”

Indeed, at least one official in the Alpine city sees an opportunity for his community to develop.

Getting to suburban towns

About 10,500 people travel to Jackson Hole during the summer, according to city and county data. In winter and shoulder season, this number is closer to 9,000.

The number of people in situations like Hunter’s is probably less. Some residents of outlying communities believe the flow is usually from places like Swan Valley, Idaho, to Jackson Hole.

Shane Fisher, a real estate agent from Swan Valley, owns an RV park which he says contains “little houses” and “glamping tents”. He frequently receives calls regarding the rental of one of his properties.

“I can’t even tell you how many calls I get,” Fisher said, “from people who want to rent it monthly because they’re trying to rent in Swan Valley and work in Jackson.”

He also receives calls from people wanting to live in Swan Valley and work in Driggs.

It’s a journey of about 40 minutes.

Hunter travels to Driggs from St. Anthony, which is a little further: approximately 52 minutes.

But Jordan Green – and occasionally his wife, Jayda – commute from even further afield to their work in the revamped downtown Swan Valley. They travel from Idaho Falls, about an hour away.

Alpine city council member Jeremy Larsen said people have been coming to his town for years. When he remodeled his home about four years ago, he said contractors had come from Logan, Utah and Idaho Falls.

But the city councilor said he had now heard of new commuters coming to work at Alpine.

“What was once just the trades, the subcontractors, to come,” Larsen said. “Now you are starting to see it in different economic sectors. “

He said he had heard that Broulim’s and Melvin Brewing were both looking for employees far away, with the grocery store bringing in people from Ririe and Idaho Falls to keep the shelves fully stocked.

Hunter moved to St. Anthony to be close to his grandmother earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she commutes in part because she can make more money closer to the Tetons.

She started working at a Family Dollar elsewhere in November. But she was transferred to the Driggs store and promoted in February, ending up with about double what she had previously earned.

She is not particularly concerned with driving.

“This is the time I have for myself the most,” said Hunter. “I can just scream with all my heart on songs. “

It takes 30-year-old Green about an hour to reach his job. He runs The Lodge at the new Palisades Creek Fly Shop in downtown Swan Valley and has worked for the lodge for years.

The journey is easier when he and Jayda, 23, travel together. But the couple can’t always make it, in part because Jayda has a school and works around Idaho Falls. These days are less pleasant.

“It’s a lot easier when we’re together,” Green said. “But the other days are just crazy, numb. Conduct. It’s just something you have to do if you want to go home.

The Greens do not commute by choice. They first moved from Swan Valley to Idaho Falls to be closer to Jayda’s school and work.

Now they are trying to come back east.

“We’re trying to back down, trying to buy a seat this time around and there’s nothing left,” said Jordan Green. “We are looking at Ririe and we always get [beat] by cash offers for 30,000 more.

For Jackson, this happened after years of steadily rising prices. Neighboring communities felt a similar pinch, and this year the tap turned on.

Fisher, the real estate agent, said there was a lot of demand.

“Our inventory has gotten so low, and there aren’t a lot of homes for sale in Swan Valley,” he said. “When they arrive it’s like a binge eating.”

Part of it could be people leaving Jackson.

“Much of our workforce is being forced out of the valley,” said Christine Walker, board member of the housing advocacy group Shelter JH and former director of the Jackson / Teton County housing department. . “Do I know how many?” Not at all. But I think anyone can feel it, and probably have a story to tell about how my neighbor or my friend down the street lost their place, because someone came along who could pay a lot more than that. me.

Fisher said he has four people on contract with Jackson who feel the area is overcrowded. Some sell and move to Swan Valley. A customer, Fisher said, bought a house on the river as a weekend residence because he was fed up with all the people in Teton County on the weekend.

It’s similar in Alpine and Driggs.

John Stennis, a GYDE associate architect and former Jackson city council candidate, moved to Alpine five years ago in part to take advantage of the area’s “small town”.

But he knows a number of people leaving Jackson for Alpine and other bedroom communities because they are overpriced, and said the Alpine real estate market has changed a lot in the past year.

“At the start of the year, we saw land values ​​almost double and property values ​​increase by at least a third in value,” Stennis said. “It has become very competitive for available homes, and there just aren’t that many homes available. “

Doug Self, Director of Community Development at Driggs, emailed News & Guide data showing that the vacancy rate for the Driggs rental housing stock fell from 6% in 2014 to 1% in 2021, and that rentals have increased by about 60% over the past six months.

Hunter felt some of that pinch.

Another reason she commutes is that the cost of living in Driggs is too high, especially when she considers paying $ 650 to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Rexburg. That, she said, would compare to at least $ 1,200 in Driggs – if she could find a place.

“Is it like gas or a chamber?” Hunter says, illustrating the compromise she’s making in her head.

“It’s just gas,” she added.

The price of gas, she thinks, will go down.

Where do we go from here?

Alpine city councilor Larsen thought Norton’s assessment of how people’s travel habits might impact Jackson was perfect.

He said he spoke to people who come to Jackson only because the wages are higher. And as Alpine grows, he said that could change – and it could happen already.

“Either the work here has become so profitable that they can now focus on Alpine… or they just chose the quality of life,” Larsen said, adding that a big part of it is the commute: “You might as well live in a city, the ride is so bad.

In the face of rapid change, Larsen argued that his city and region have room to develop, especially if more local workers leave and choose to live and work in a place like Alpine rather than travel to Jackson.

“We have it all in Star Valley,” Larsen said, contrasting the relative abundance of private and developable land in northern Lincoln County to the relative scarcity of Teton County.

“From Alpine to Afton it’s 30 miles, so it’s a little less than Alpine to Jackson,” said Larsen. “Between these kilometers there is a lot more private land. It can be built and house people.

Leaning against the counter of the Star Valley fly shop, Jordan Green worried about the future of the region.

“It will be exactly the same as Jackson. We’re all going to be kicked out, ”Green said. “I mean I’m not the only one looking for a house that works here and can’t afford to live here.”

But Fisher, the Swan Valley real estate agent, thought the changes weren’t all bad.

“I actually want to see Swan Valley grow,” he said, prioritizing new developments around the intersection of Highway 26 and Pine Creek Road. He argued that there is a middle ground between lack of development and overdevelopment, as long as the Swan Valley government allows it in a “controlled manner.”

“There are a lot of people who are great against it, and I am not,” he said. “I just think it needs to be done right.”

Larsen acknowledged that the change would likely be difficult. Employers are looking for employees, employees are looking for accommodation, and people are used to the Alpine the way it is.

“It’s going to be just growing pains that I see going forward,” Larsen said. “It’s a new generation of people coming in, a different culture coming in. And so it’s just tossing the pot.”

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