Critics: Housing plan misses Latinos’ needs

April 11, 2019

Latino advocates took issue with a fundamental piece of the town and county’s affordable housing strategy, saying data it uses to determine the community’s housing needs doesn’t represent immigrant families.

Since January 2018 the Affordable Housing Department has required would-be renters and homeowners to complete an intake form, which provides information about their household size and income. More than 800 people have filled it out so far, and the data show that nearly 70 percent are one- or two-person households.

But Estela Torres, a Latino resource specialist with One22, said Monday at a joint meeting of the Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners that the figures don’t match the reality she sees working with low-income Latino families.

“This does not reflect the Latino community,” she said. “They are five-plus, and many of them are living in studio apartments paying market rates.”

Officials have taken some steps to reach Latinos in need of affordable housing. When she presented the latest Housing Supply Plan to elected officials Monday, Housing Director April Norton noted that with the town’s help, her department has translated all its documents into Spanish.

But according to Torres the efforts haven’t solved the problem. The demographic that makes up 12 percent of Teton County residents and 25 percent of Jackson residents simply isn’t filling out the intake form to the same degree as other groups.

“We’re not getting the people to register the way we should be,” Torres said. “I’m hoping we can be more aggressive with the outreach.”

Norton said her department is “always working on how we get the word out,” from quarterly e-newsletters to holding office hours in community places, outside the housing office.

“We’re trying some different tactics,” she said. “We’ll certainly work to increase the number of households on our intake form and continue to improve the data set.”

Before approving the Housing Supply Plan, several officials said they support Torres’ concerns, agreeing they should do more to connect the Latino population with affordable housing. Commissioner Greg Epstein said that one of the town and county’s overarching goals is to house 65 percent of the workforce locally, and Latinos constitute a significant part of that group.

“I really do think that they are part of the foundation of our workforce and our community,” Epstein said. “We need them to help our community thrive, and to allow them to thrive as well.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon acknowledged the housing department can only work with the data it has, but he said, “it’s a good thing to keep in our minds” that the form’s results may neglect a major swath of Jackson Hole’s population.

And as some of the lowest-income members of the community, said Jordan Rich, a Latino service advocate with the Community Safety Network, Latinos arguably need affordable housing more than most.

“I believe that as a town we should be prioritizing the most vulnerable,” she said, “and I think building units that provide that security and that hope for those families is really important.”

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to reflect that the housing department worked with the town, not One22, to translate its documents into Spanish.