Affordable housing returning to Town Council agenda in New Year

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PINEDALE – The Pinedale Town Council will discuss affordable housing options at its Jan. 9 meeting, Mayor Matt Murdock said at the council’s December meeting.

The council tasked the mayor with forming a work group back in January to discuss different ideas for creating affordable housing in Pinedale. The work group consists of the mayor, community leaders from churches and nonprofits like Bridges Out of Poverty and the Pinedale Food Basket, realtors and engineers, Murdock told the Roundup.

Rev. Melinda Bobo, rector at St. Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church, and a member of the affordable housing work group, spoke before the council on Dec. 12.

St. Andrew’s plays a role in providing mortgage and rental assistance to people in the community struggling to find a roof over their head as housing prices “explode,” Bobo said.

Bobo is also chairwoman of the Sublette Prevention Coalition, and explained that housing instability and a lack of housing are significant “risk factors” in compounding issues like alcohol and substance abuse and can negatively affect people’s mental health.

“We definitely need to move forward on affordable housing,” Bobo said. “This is critical to people’s lives, especially during the cold winter months.”

The work group studied examples of affordable housing in other communities around the state, Bobo added. A variety of options exist, from for-profit developments to housing operated by a nonprofit.

Bobo encouraged a nonprofit approach. Removing the “pressure to make a profit” could better allow people to acquire housing, build equity and “help people climb the housing ladder,” Bobo said.

Included among the many options for affordable housing was a land-trust concept, said Murdock. In this situation, a local nonoprofit, rather than the Town of Pinedale, would own and manage the land under a trust. The idea “worked well” in several communities in Wyoming, Murdock added.

The work group also explored different funding possibilities and sources from local, state and federal agencies, Murdock said.

Murdock emphasized the desire to host at least one public meeting in January to address affordable housing.

“This is something we need to be proactive about,” he told councilmembers.

Councilman Tyler Swafford agreed, stating that affordable housing was “on people’s radar.” He discussed Rep. Albert Sommers’ presentation to the Town Council in November when affordable housing was discussed, among other upcoming legislative issues.

“The state is aware that affordable housing is an issue and knows it is a problem,” Swafford said.

Affordable housing is also a workforce issue, Swafford said, citing the example of a nurse hired to work at the critical access hospital unable to find housing in Pinedale.

Other town updates

• The council approved a 10-year lease for Otterspace to establish an electric-vehicle charging station in Pinedale. Otterspace is a company based in Lander.

The electric-vehicle charging station can accommodate pickup trucks with trailers as well as sedans.

Councilman Scott Kosiba hoped the electric-vehicle station would attract tourists traveling to Jackson, the Tetons and Yellowstone to stay in Pinedale and spend money in the community.

• The town is discussing the possibility of building a communications tower near the new Dudley Key Sports Complex, on property the town leases from the Sublette County School District No. 1 (SCSD1). The SCSD1 board of trustees passed a motion on Dec. 8 allowing the town to issue a request for proposals contingent on final agreement of the revenue sharing plan and final design approval.

The process is in preliminary stages, and will involve additional public meetings between the SCSD1 board and town before a tower is constructed.