Sacrificing what we love on the altar of affordable housing

In the immortal words of former county commissioner Hank Phibbs, “You shouldn’t sacrifice the things we love about this valley—conservation, wildlife, open space—on the altar of affordable housing.”

What a statement.

The need for housing in Jackson Hole is real. Most all of us have been there. But should government be spending your money building homes for some who may have arrived to the valley only recently, and who may have more financial means available to them than the hardworking folks trying to pay their own mortgages right now?

The burden of providing more affordable housing options lies squarely with the businesses, institutions, and government agencies that need these employees. When government meddles in private sector issues, the result is usually an expensive mess. Taxpayer money to purchase land and build affordable housing has been squandered by a housing agency now defunct. Public-private partnerships tread dodgy ground. Who gets a house? Who doesn’t? Who is more important to the community—a teacher, an ambulance driver, a planning department employee?

Transportation is a huge issue as well. Our streets and highways are clogged. Even in the offseason. Is the solution simply paving—more roads, wider roads—while we continue to mow down our precious wildlife?

Can we not collectively acknowledge Jackson Hole likely has a carrying capacity, and we might be at it now? We cannot preserve the unparalleled beauty and charm of this community, and continue to build and build. More hotel beds, more condos, more banks, more grocery stores, more schools—more everything is strangling this valley with uncontrolled growth.

Save Historic Jackson Hole has sometimes garnered a reputation as an organization that merely says “no” to everything. That we offer no solutions. Maybe there are no viable solutions—we hope and trust our elected leaders will continue to explore them—but we recognize what isn’t an answer. Building and spending our way out of housing and transportation challenges is shortsighted and foolhardy.

Taxing and spending $70 million in SPET initiatives won’t house everyone who wants to live here and it won’t get vehicles off our roads. It won’t come close. We can’t build houses and buy buses fast enough to accommodate everyone that wants to live here. And we certainly shouldn’t be depending on government to do it for us.

SHJH does not say no to development. We say yes to wildlife. Yes, to protecting our irreplaceable natural resources. Yes, to maintaining a quality of life that attracted us all here to begin with.


Jake Nichols, executive director of Save Historic Jackson Hole