Mayor Murdock presents affordable housing options

Cali O'Hare file photo

PINEDALE – The Pinedale Town Council reserved time on Jan. 9 to explore options for affordable and attainable housing in the community. Mayor Murdock led the presentation prepared by members of a volunteer group formed in January 2022 including leaders in real estate, engineering, the faith community and nonprofits to examine the issue.

The town council did not take formal action related to affordable housing at the meeting. Mayor Murdock emphasized that the town was in the preliminary phase, taking the first step by “inviting public conversation and discussion” on the topic.

“Affordable” housing typically refers to housing that costs 30 percent or less of an individual or family’s gross annual income, said Murdock. The 30-percent figure includes rent or mortgage payments along with utilities and other housing expenses, said Rev. Melinda Bobo, rector at St. Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church and a member of the affordable housing group.

Defining affordable housing as 30 percent of gross income expands the concept to include people in a variety of vocations at different income levels who cannot afford high real estate prices in Pinedale, Murdock explained.

To keep housing costs at or below 30 percent of gross income, a renter paying $1,300 per month would need to earn a gross salary of at least $52,008 per year to keep their housing affordable, according to figures supplied by the town. An annual salary of $52,008 equates to roughly $25 per hour for a 40-hour work week.

At a current mortgage rate of 6.52 percent, the monthly payment required to own a $350,000 house at a 30-year fixed rate would be $2,217, based on the town’s figures. Using the same formula to calculate affordable rent, an individual or family would require a gross annual salary of approximately $88,680, or $42.63 per hour based on a 40-hour work week, to afford a $350,000 home.

The median rental for a 2-bedroom residence in Pinedale stood at $1,250 per month in January, a 39-percent increase from the previous year, according to real-estate website Zumper.com. The median price for a 3-bedroom rental in Pinedale increased 13 percent in one year to $1,700 per month.

The median market price for a home in Pinedale varies by source: $350,000 at Rocket Mortgage, $376,706 on Zillow and $484,000 on Realtor.com.

Finding affordable housing is compounded by the cost of living in Pinedale, Mayor Murdock explained. Statistics gathered by the affordable housing group indicate that the cost of living in Pinedale is higher than the average in Wyoming and the United States, Murdock noted.

“We all know living in Pinedale can be expensive,” he said. “You hear people talk about it quite often around town – about how expensive food is, how expensive fuel is, how expensive rent is.”

Transportation costs – buying gas, monthly car payments and the price of maintaining a car – are also a significant expense for people in the community, Murdock added.

Possible solutions

Affordable housing is good for a community, Murdock said. Benefits include maintaining a diverse workforce, attracting “essential service workers,” decreasing “intergenerational poverty,” improving economic mobility and “preserving our town’s quality of life,” Murdock remarked.

The affordable housing group in Pinedale came up with eight options for affordable housing. The solutions included housing assistance programs provided by state agencies like the Wyoming Community Development Authority or federal housing assistance programs offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Options involving federal agencies are often accompanied by strict income guidelines, Murdock explained. Determining the median income in Sublette County varied by federal agency. Murdock raised the concern that federal requirements could exclude community members who earn incomes above the federal threshold but are still unable to afford the average rent or mortgage in Pinedale.

Other ideas involved changing town zoning to encourage affordable housing or enacting rent control laws.

Another option is creating a community housing trust, similar to projects undertaken by communities across the country battling severe and chronic affordable housing crises. The affordable housing group spoke to the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit providing housing for residents in Teton County.

A community housing trust is operated by an independent nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization with its own board consisting of five to seven residents, Murdock explained. Housing trust developments are a mix of rental units and homes for sale, he added.

A nonprofit housing trust can establish its own qualifications and community standards free of federal guidelines, Murdock explained. The nonprofit owns the land to maintain affordability, allowing qualifying families to purchase a home and build equity to eventually move into housing available at market rates, he said.

Funding for a housing trust could come from public, private and state sources, Murdock stated.

Murdock told council members and the public he was “leaning” toward the housing trust option as a way to create affordable housing and promote healthy growth while limiting federal interference and avoiding strict income guidelines.

“In my approach to this, I’ve tried to protect the character of Pinedale while at the same time promoting justice for people who are struggling to get into homes,” Murdock said.

Several members of the public shared concerns about options for affordable housing. Tesa Manning encouraged the town to pursue a phased approach to avoid a “housing glut” that could negatively affect property values for homeowners and landlords.

Councilman Tyler Swafford said the community housing trust was the “obvious answer” to the affordable housing issue. How the community housing trust will take shape and operate was still to be determined and would involve a “different conversation,” Swafford added.

Affordable housing was “one of the most important things about the future of Pinedale,” Swafford remarked.

“You don’t want it to be cost-prohibitive to move to our town,” Swafford added.

Councilman Dean Loftus suggested the town begin to “gauge” interest in people that might be willing to serve on a community housing trust board. Murdock stressed the need for the board to be made up of Pinedale residents rather than mayoral appointments.

Murdock said he would speak to the affordable housing group and return to the town council with additional items to discuss.

The next step is for residents to organize a nonprofit board, Murdock told the Roundup.

 

 

 

 


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