Teton County Access to Justice Center was featured in the following article from the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Read full article here.
At a recent meeting of all the human service agencies in Jackson Hole, Jackson’s housing crisis was not on the agenda.
That was because if it had been there, it would have monopolized the discussion.
Housing is already emerging as the top 2015 concern for Teton County’s human services sector. With roughly two months to go until the summer tourist season kicks off, agencies are bracing — and wincing — at the thought of a repeat of last year’s shortage of affordable places to live.
“The problem happened so much faster than I think any of us anticipated,” Teton Youth and Family Services spokeswoman Sarah Cavallaro said. “We were in a recession and then suddenly we were in the middle of a huge crisis.”
Cavallaro’s agency doesn’t directly address housing concerns as part of its mission. Its trouble is in housing its staff, she said.
“We were just really short-staffed last year because people left, and the people who wanted to work for us to replace them couldn’t find housing,” Cavallaro said. “It’s already happening again this year. We have people leaving, and we can’t replace them.”
Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center has similar woes. Its employees often need specialized degrees and qualifications, the same things that can get them more money in locations with easier housing markets.
Instability affects treatment
Executive Director Deidre Ashley expressed concerns about the summer housing market on behalf of her staff and her clients, whose treatment can be greatly disrupted by housing instability.
Where housing is directly a part of the agency’s mission, as with the Community Resource Center, directors are eyeing the calendar askance.
As the summer rush takes hold, Mary Erickson’s options for clients with housing woes narrow drastically, she said.
In the winter hotels will often offer reduced rates for needy valley residents or at least have vacancies. In the summer that isn’t the case. Last year Community Resource Center handed out tents to its clients.
It’s likely Erickson will be in the same boat this year, she said.
“We’re already seeing this crop up again,” Erickson said. “Rents are going through the roof. People’s leases are running out, and their new rent will be at least $500 higher than it was. When you’re barely getting by that’s not something you can afford.”
With only a few months to plan, it’s unlikely that any of the more creative solutions Erickson and her counterparts have can make a difference this year, she said.
“It’s not even close to an ideal solution for a family, but I think we’ll probably end up handing out tents again,” she said. “There just isn’t anything else.”
With a little luck, Erickson said, donations to the Community Resource Center can help pay move-in costs for some families who end up needing to relocate this summer. Otherwise there isn’t much she can do.
Lawyers provide free advice
The Teton County Access to Justice Center hopes its new monthly housing law seminars can make a difference with the types of situations its lawyers end up tackling this summer.
“Part of the reason we wanted to do this now is that we’re hearing from all of our fellow nonprofits that this summer is going to be more of the same,” Executive Director Lauren Browne said. “Right now our housing cases are down, but this is the season when a lot of leases are up and a lot of leases are signed. We definitely anticipate that being a need again.”
Last summer Browne and her fellow lawyers at Access to Justice, which provides free or low-cost legal assistance to qualifying Teton County residents, saw several of their clients battling landlords who either did not know their responsibilities under the law or did not care about them, she said.
The new seminar series is designed to give tenants a few tools in getting security deposits back and dealing with evictions or demands that violate a written lease, she said.
The next seminar is scheduled for March 31.
Every agency concerned takes part in the Systems of Care program, which works as a venue for human services organizations to meet and collaborate, according to statements at the most recent meeting in February. But none of the organizations see a way to do more than try to tread water this year.
“We know there can’t be a solution overnight,” Cavallaro said. “But overnight this will become something that threatens to impact our level of service. We try to plan for it, but there are only so many solutions without solving the entire issue.”