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As Pinedale struggles with affordable housing, it looks to Jackson as a model

A brown sign with a mountain scene in the middle. "Welcome to Pinedale" is written around the scene. The "I" in "Pinedale" is a pine tree. At the bottom, it says "Donated by Wildwood Carving Works."
Courtesy of Pinedale Online
Courtesy of Pinedale Online

When Mitch Johnson first moved to Pinedale in 2019 the housing market looked a lot different.

"It was pretty easy to find a place and it was very affordable," he said.

He had moved out to Pinedale to help sell his father's estate, which eventually went for about $300,000.

"As far as I know now, it was a large square footage home and something like that now is almost doubled," Johnson said.

Much like the rest of the country, property in Sublette County has skyrocketed, making it hard for people to afford to live there. But some residents say they don’t think prices will come back down. The median cost of a home in Sublette is about 25 percent more than the state as a whole, according to a recent Wyoming Economic Analysis Division report.

But that is not even the main problem, according to Johnson. It is inventory – or the lack thereof. Johnson and his partner Sarah Munson have been looking for housing for themselves and four kids.

"I think if there was more availability, the prices might come down a little bit because people would be competing for that business," Munson said.

And, that is something Pinedale's Mayor Matt Murdock is aware of.

"Pinedale has been in some ways discovered. It's a very beautiful community, we've made a lot of improvements in the community," Murdock said. "I think there's been changes that have gone on through COVID, or people just wanting to get out of cities."

In fact, over $30 million was spent collectively on real estate in the Pinedale area in 2021. According to town data, that’s more than double from 2020. Murdock said that paired with population growth for the last five years has created a shortage of affordable housing.

"This has been a problem that has been occurring for the last couple of years for single moms or young professionals or newly married couples to find a place to move into that they could have as their first home," he said.

Murdock is looking into creating a dedicated affordable housing option in Pinedale – a first for the town. He is proposing 'homeownership by trust' – a public-private partnership that would develop five acres the town already owns into 56 housing units. People could buy the structures, but they would not own the land – ideally preventing rising prices.

Town of Pinedale economic data for 2020.
Town of Pinedale
Over 30 million was spent collectively on real estate in the Pinedale area in 2021 – more than double from 2020.

The plan is loosely based on the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust. It is a private, not-for-profit organization in neighboring Teton County that has developed 181 homes since 1991.

"We buy land, we then design, develop and title and build homes that are affordable to our workforce in perpetuity," Ann Cresswell, Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust executive director, said. "And then when we have a finished product, we sell to dedicated members of our community, and we enter into a 99 year lease agreement."

That agreement is what keeps the housing affordable, Cresswell said. The price of homes through the organization is anywhere between $150,000 and $540,000. The median home price in Teton County is $2.4 million, according to the housing trust.

They are limited to how much they can build in Jackson – it is a valley, surrounded by a lot of public land. Currently, there are about 700 people waiting for housing through the program.

Cresswell said that although it seems like Jackson's affordable housing dilemma is more extreme than Pinedale's, she thinks in about three years it could look similar.

"I would wager that this issue will creep up on essential employees of the town of Pinedale, your librarians, your teachers, all the people that maintain and take care of the essential infrastructure of your community, and health care providers," Cresswell said.

Pinedale's affordable housing plan is in the early stages. Murdock said he is creating a 'working group' to flesh out the details.

However, not everyone agrees with this approach. Chase Harber, the owner and broker for High Mountain Real Estate in Pinedale, said affordable housing should come from a private enterprise – not the town.

"I think it would be an issue that I would take personally if I'm out trying to get investor money and go build some affordable housing, and then the town does it and competes with me and can do it cheaper," Harber said.

For now, residents are making do. Mitch Johnson and Sarah Munson did find a rental. They jumped on it, sight unseen, but Muson said they had to downsize.

"My two youngest will have to use the living room kind of as a bedroom because there's not enough bedrooms," she said. "But right now, it's just kind of the logistics and having to settle. And, there's a roof over the kids head."

Johnson and Munson are hoping to eventually purchase a home in Pinedale – if anything comes onto the market.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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