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Open Spaces

Teton County Opens Up Eligibility To Buy Affordable Homes To Dreamers

A home in front of green mountains, with a Jeep by the garage
JACKSON HOLE COMMUNITY HOUSING TRUST
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JACKSON HOLE COMMUNITY HOUSING TRUST

Brandon Hernandez's family moved from Mexico to Jackson in 2002 when he was just six years old.

"It was a great place to grow up. I did a lot of outdoor activities, which was great," recalled Hernandez. "It taught me a lot about Wyoming and Jackson and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem."

Hernandez is a DACA recipient. He went through the school system in Jackson and then went to the University of Wyoming for college. That's when his family ran into housing trouble and they received a letter to vacate their home.

"They couldn't find anything. Or what they could find was way over what they could afford. So they did what a lot of people in this town do when they can't find anything and they moved to Victor," said Hernandez. "And they have been commuting since 2016."

Hernandez said after college he was lucky to get a job with the county housing department which also provided employee housing. But he said it can be a little bit of a Catch 22.

"If I decided that I wanted to do something else, or if the county decided that they wanted to move in a different direction with my employment...so I guess, just kind of that uncertainty that you'll only have this place so long as you work for that person who's providing the housing," he said.

He does want to eventually buy a home because he said renting is just putting money down the drain.

"I also know that if I ever want to own a home, it probably wouldn't be here in this county."

The Teton County Commissioners and the Jackson Town Council voted unanimously earlier this week to allow DACA recipients like Hernandez to be eligible to apply for affordable housing. The officials received a number of public comments and although there was positive feedback, a handful of the emails expressed concern.

"If you don't want people like myself here long-term, like, good luck trying to get into a restaurant. Good luck trying to go and get your coffee. I don't think that these people really realize how important people like myself are to the community, especially in the place that's so pressed already for workers."
Brandon Hernandez

Kevin Byrn of Alta wrote, "There are so many legal U.S. citizen residents of Teton County in dire need of housing, such as sheriff's deputies who can't afford to live within Jackson proper. Please do not get our county mixed up within this illegal DACA mess and keep your focus on matters that only benefit the U.S. citizen taxpayers* of Teton County."

But commissioners and council members fought back against the idea that the Dreamers don't deserve the opportunity. During one of the town council meetings, council member Arne Jorgensen said despite the dysfunction in Washington D.C, these residents are important.

"They are exactly the type of person that we want in our community. They're hard-working, they're clear, they're articulate, they're people that are working in critical jobs," said Jorgenson.

The 2020 Census reported 14 percent of Teton County is Latino. But community organizations say those are underestimated based on school reports and other assessments. And it is estimated that many of the 510 DACA recipients in Wyoming live in Teton County. A New American Economy Study in 2018 showed that the foreign-born population made up a higher share of the labor force than U.S. citizens. Brandon Hernandez said they'd be hard to replace.

"If you don't want people like myself here long-term, like, good luck trying to get into a restaurant. Good luck trying to go and get your coffee," said Hernandez. "I don't think that these people really realize how important people like myself are to the community, especially in the place that's so pressed already for workers."

And let's be clear, this change just puts Dreamers on equal footing, not above other affordable housing applicants. For Hernandez, this does give him hope.

"Because owning a home, or owning anything in this county, would be the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "So I feel like, even though those odds are very, very slim, there's still an opportunity."

As one public commentator said, now Dreamers feel like part of the community and know they are being heard.

*DACA recipients do pay taxes. Wyoming DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals paid an estimated $923,000 in state and local taxes in 2018.

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