'New Rich' Clash with Rocky Mountain Locals Pricey Second Homes Are Driving Up Housing Costs in Tony Resort Towns, Forcing Many Residents to Move Out

Article excerpt

The name itself sounds like a paradox: the Teton County Housing Authority.

One half conjures up an image of craggy peaks rising from the wide Western plains. The other, of high rises and gritty inner-city neighborhoods.

And therein lies the heart of an issue that is dividing resort communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West.

From Aspen, Colo., to Park City, Utah, middle- and lower-class residents are increasingly being nudged out as wealthy second homeowners come in and drive housing costs through the roof. In fact, the average single-family home sells for $700,000 in Jackson. In Park City, the figure jumps to $784,000.

This trend, building over the past few decades, has now become as widespread here as skis and snow tires. Towns such as Jackson and Vail, Colo., are being forced to either build affordable housing or face losing many of their citizens - and much of their local character. And as telecommuting allows even more urban dwellers to head to the West, the split between the two groups is only growing.

"It's happening more and more across the West," says William Gribb, director of the graduate planning department of the University of Wyoming in Laramie. "Communities are being developed more for the new rich, who have more spendable income than those living there." The money for second homes is "not coming from the West, but from metropolitan areas."

In Jackson, the escalating home prices have some local officials worried that the city could lose its vitality. "The middle-class family takes the hit," says Bill Knight, director of the housing authority. Because housing prices are not in sync with salaries, "Jackson Hole cannot attract middle class people to live here. Without that cornerstone of the community, we have a hard time recruiting law-enforcement officers, teachers, and nurses."

Mr. Knight is not alone in his concerns. Mary Chapman, a senior fellow at the Center for the New West in Boulder, Colo., has monitored growth-related changes in southwest Colorado over the past five years. "There has been a decline or stagnation with the average income, as housing costs have at least doubled or tripled," she says. Income has decreased as traditional jobs, connected to ranching or farming, are replaced with plentiful - but low-paying - service sector jobs tied to the resort industry. …

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