Council prioritizes funding social services

In its draft budget, the City of Victor has set aside $5,000 for the Teton County Joint Housing Authority for the next fiscal year and has made an immediate contribution of $2,182 to the Community Resource Center of Teton Valley so the nonprofit can help valley residents who are facing housing emergencies, including the tenants being evicted from the Rocking H Mobile Home Park next to Teton Valley Resort.

The allocations are a result of a request made by the housing authority, the CRC, and Valley Advocates for Responsible Development at the council’s meeting on July 8. The housing authority asked the city to cover some of its operating expenses, particularly as it begins to explore housing projects in Victor.

The council agreed to fully fund the housing authority’s $5,000 request because, as Mayor Will Frohlich put it in a letter to the three entities, the city adopted the Teton County Affordable Housing Strategic Plan in 2019, “acknowledging the vital and important need for affordable housing in our community.”

In a letter to the city council, the three groups asked for help for the nine Victor families who own or rent mobile homes next to Teton Valley Resort. Those people received 90-day eviction notices in June, resulting in a surge of attention and support from the community; a GoFundMe to help them with relocation costs has raised almost $6,500 as of July 27.

The letter asked the council to help pay for a relocation assessment in which the community partners would determine if the mobile homes could be moved, how much it would cost, whether there is land they could be moved to, and how to address the families’ housing needs if their homes cannot be moved. The letter then requested that Victor help fund permanent housing arrangements for the families.

Because the city can only fund programs that are publicly available, the mayor opted to contribute all of the money the council had set aside last year, a little over $2,000, to the CRC’s Quality of Life Fund, which helps ameliorate acute hardship.

“Our hope is that this funding can be used to make a difference in the lives of those facing a housing crisis during these especially challenging times. We hope it inspires others to join in and to also do what they can in any way that they are able,” Frohlich wrote in a response to the three community partners.

Keith Larsen, the general manager of Teton Valley Resort who served the eviction notices in order to expand the RV park, said the tenants are on his mind daily. He and property owner Randy Larsen are putting together a financial aid package for each family but said the details are still pending and can’t be shared.

“I will say that we’re putting a lot of resources into expediting the installation some lower cost units installed at the resort as a housing option for neighbors,” Larsen added.

Betsy Hawkins, the executive director of the CRC, has been working with the tenants as well as VARD, the housing authority, local planning and building departments, and some community volunteers. She said that in the absence of a solid answer from Larsen about financial aid, the tenants have to make the decision whether to leave the mobile homes that they own behind or “navigate the very convoluted process of having their home moved to a not yet identified piece of land.”

“We are prepared to support them through this relocation process in any way that we can,” Hawkins added.

The housing authority has also asked Driggs for $5,000 and Teton County for $15,000. The Driggs City Council decided to reduce its monetary contribution to $500 in next year’s budget because Driggs footed the initial cost of founding the housing authority, has supported the authority with staff resources, and has agreed to donate a valuable piece of property for an affordable housing project in town.

During a work session on July 20, the Teton County commissioners agreed to consider the housing authority’s request for $10,000 in operational funding and $5,000 to produce a guidebook to accessory dwelling units. The county is also looking into the possibility of a land donation.

In its budget discussions, the Victor City Council decided to prioritize social services over other philanthropic causes in FY2021. Every year the city supports around ten nonprofits including the Teton Valley Foundation, Subs for Santa, the animal shelter, and others. This year the council members said they wanted to increase their contributions to the nonprofits serving the people who are most affected by the pandemic, including Seniors West of the Tetons, the Hispanic Resource Center, and the Family Safety Network.

“To me, during the pandemic the human need is front and center, and needs to be our focus,” said Councilwoman Amy Ross.

Councilwoman Emily Sustick agreed, saying, “Of course this does not minimize in my mind any of the other organizations, but this was at the top of my priority list.”