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Michael Baron has lived in Park City for 17 years. For the past six, he’s worked at a local toy store in Redstone, an upscale shopping district of small shops and restaurants.
He loves his job and the owners are like family to him, he said. But Baron is about to lose his housing to Park City’s rental crisis, a problem that he expects will force him to quit.
His rent has been going up for years, he said, and as more people moved into Park City, or bought second homes in the resort town, he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford to live locally for that much longer.
Now, after the lease on his condo ends Nov. 1, his landlords plan to convert their property into a nightly rental.
Pessimistic about finding a new place in Park City, he’s planning to move to the Salt Lake Valley and look for work there to save himself the half-hour commute up the canyon. “It’s too bad, but it was inevitable,” he said. “Eventually Park City was going to be priced out.”
Baron is one of many residents who have been affected by rising housing costs in Park City, where thousands of tourists visit each year to enjoy the area’s world-class ski resorts and attend the Sundance Film Festival.
And during the pandemic, wealthy home buyers have flocked to Park City, newly drawn to the region’s great hiking and schools as increased telecommuting gave people more freedom to decide where to live.
But with the newcomers came higher housing prices. City numbers show that the median listing price per square foot was under $675 in July 2016 but close to $850 in September 2020. Home sales rose 62% in Park City in July and August 2020 compared to sales at the same time the previous year.
Exact data is scarcer on rental properties, but rental affordability is becoming a bigger problem, too. A June report from the popular rental website Zumper shows the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment currently sits at $1,800 — an 18% increase over last year.
“Rents are rising rapidly and there is little to nothing available,” Scott Loomis, a longtime leader at affordable housing nonprofit Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, said in an email. “I would guess market rents have risen 50% in the past two years.”
Renters are losing their homes to eager tourists and buyers
Baron doesn’t believe his salary is the issue. He makes “more than enough money” to afford housing elsewhere, he said, it just isn’t enough in Park City.
His experience — losing his home because the owner wants to switch to lucrative short-term tenants — is shared by other long-term renters, said Jason Glidden, housing development manager for the city of Park City.
Property owners have the right to turn a unit into a short-term rental as long as it is allowed in their housing zone, he said.
“Over the last few years, we have seen many units that have been long-term rentals or primary residences converted to short-term rentals,” he said in an email.
“Unfortunately, this only decreases the available inventory of long-term rentals and pushes up rental rates,” he added.
There are an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 overnight rentals in Park City, Glidden said, and up to 5,000 when the rest of Summit County is included
Pari Hollis, a 24-year-old who works at real estate company Keller Williams, said she also is being forced to leave Park City, where she has lived for two years. The owner of the two-bedroom place she rents with her sister and cats has decided to sell it.
She attributes the shift to the current high property values, and is sad to leave the places and restaurants she loves. “It (won’t be) as easy to go out and grab a bite to eat at Maxwell’s,” she said.
Hollis and her sister were paying $1,750 a month, she said. A similar property in the same neighborhood, one that she thinks is slightly less nice, was listed at $2,500 when Hollis was searching for a new place.
Now she and her sister plan to move to Heber, after deciding they won’t be able to afford housing in Park City.
It will turn Hollis’ current eight-minute commute into at least 25 minutes. She said she isn’t looking forward to driving on Highway 40 every day come winter.
Hollis said she isn’t sure about a solution to the city’s housing woes. Building a significant amount of new housing, she said, would change the beautiful views of the mountains that draw people. But as it stands, she said, it’s tough to try to live in Park City right now.
Many would-be renters are driven to commute
As prices increase, many renters across the state face a tradeoff between housing and transportation costs — an issue that is especially prevalent in Park City.
Many employees have moved outside of the area in search of lower housing costs. But they often end up paying more for transportation and vehicle maintenance as a result of a longer commute.
Connor O’Keefe, a sales manager at Park City’s Best Buy, said he commutes about 42 minutes to work each day, but said the drive doesn’t bother him.
“A lot of us come up from the valley, which is fairly typical of blue collar jobs in Park City,” he said.
Unfortunately, widespread rising housing prices mean even living in the Salt Lake Valley is becoming more difficult.
Connor Shanklin, who has been working in his new job in Park City for about six months, said he knew living there wasn’t really an option for him.
He is the social media and marketing coordinator for the nonprofit National Ability Center, which he describes as an “organization that empowers individuals of all abilities through outdoor recreation.”
His lease in Salt Lake City was up recently, so he looked into moving to Park City. Once it was clear that he couldn’t afford it, he started searching for new housing in the Salt Lake City area instead.
His 30-minute commute isn’t bad, according to Shanklin. But after months of looking in Salt Lake City, he ended up in a complex he doesn’t like.
He said he isn’t happy with the situation, but the market forced his hand. He blames a low lease turnover as part of the problem, saying he thinks people who have affordable places aren’t moving.
His assumptions are backed by data from a Utah Foundation study, which found that fewer people are moving from their homes.
“I think this year as a whole, the market is extremely challenging,” Shanklin said. “Normally leases are up, but that just isn’t happening.”
Even those with ‘a pretty good income’ struggle to find rentals
In the meantime, it isn’t just employees who are struggling to afford places to rent.
Business owner Kathy Christiansen said her Park City landlord raised her family’s rent by a third when her lease went up this year. Once she realized her family would have to move, she began scouring online listings for a new place to live.
She said she checked five or six times a day for new posts. “It was an obsession,” she said.
She would call within hours of postings going up, only to find that they were already gone.
After six weeks, her family found a smaller home away from their old neighborhood. Her commute to work has doubled, she said, but she feels lucky to have found somewhere to live.
The stress was bad for Christiansen’s family, but she said it must be much worse for low-wage workers.
“It’s a breaking point. I can’t do it and I have a pretty good income. … What are they going to do?” she said.
The move itself cost $3,000, in addition to the security deposit and initial rent required by her new landlord, which she said could present another affordability challenge for renters.
Growth to meet demand isn’t always welcomed
More broadly, Park City’s dearth of affordable housing is part of a national trend of low housing inventory. But many factors play into the area’s current housing prices, Loomis said, including higher costs for lumber and other building materials, high demand for real estate and the difficulty of finding labor in all trades.
Historically, Park City has seen outsized growth in second homes, rather than ones built for local residents. For example, Park City’s population grew by 2.5% between 2000 and 2010, according to city data.
However, housing units grew by 42%, from 6,661 to 9,471. “The vast majority of this growth was in second homes,” according to the city.
That trend is now countywide — the number of housing units that are not a primary residence edged out primary homes in the county for the first time in 2019, according to County Planner Amir Caus.
The county as a whole, including Park City, has 14,213 primary units and 14,901 non-primary ones.
And after years of growth, residents are wary of new developments. This means that when opportunities have arisen for local affordable housing, people aren’t always enthused.
A proposal for high density housing, including affordable housing, in Park City’s Highland Estates neighborhood has been met with opposition by residents.
Summit County has jurisdiction over the project, which the county Planning Commission recommended against building. The County Council is scheduled to consider the plan on July 28.
Residents expressed concerns about increased traffic and pressure on schools and other services if the development is built.
“At what point do we stop building housing developments in every nook and cranny?” said Jodi Blair-Russell in an email to the county.
Other people worried the development would threaten the area’s open space and character.
“I know this piece of land isn’t that pretty to look at and seems like an afterthought to most, but it does represent Park City to some,” said Dawn Pencil in an email to the county. “When I say I live where [Highway] 40 and [Interstate] 80 come together, people acknowledge that area and appreciate the mountain rural landscape that it offers.
”Putting an apartment complex on it likens it to any other community in the valley,” she said, and based on the developer’s current plan, “that isn’t Park City or Snyderville Basin values.”