Park City reckons with how to house its priced-out workers serving luxury clientele

Housing in the resort town is getting more expensive, and lucrative short-term rentals are leaving few options for traditional renters.

Park City • Caroline Amick moved out of Park City last fall, after the owner of the house she was renting with two others said they had to leave so it could be rented out to seasonal winter workers.

Now, she commutes from Salt Lake City up Parleys Canyon to her property management job, fighting through ski traffic and commuter congestion that, on the worst days, can make the 25-mile drive last an hour.

Kara Cook, a public school teacher, moved away from Park City in 2013, searching for housing she didn’t have to share with six other adults. She was able to move back to her hometown in 2018, when she and her family won a literal lottery — with a “pingpong ball and a machine spinning around” — for affordable housing in town. If not for that, she said, she couldn’t live where she grew up.

And just three of the Park City Fire District’s 115 employees live in town, Fire Chief Bob Zanetti said. All three live in affordable housing. Zanetti said it’s a public safety issue that so few live in Park City.

Housing and rental prices have been forcing out longtime locals and the full-time workers who staff the resort town’s schools, hospitals, bars, restaurants, shops and ski slopes for years. But the problem is only worsening, according to a 2023 report discussed at a Feb. 15 Park City Council meeting.

Since 2000, the percentage of owner-occupied residences has decreased by 7 percentage points — as median home values skyrocketed from just over $400,000 to $1.5 million, the report states. The percentage of rental units has also decreased dramatically since then, with rents soaring as homeowners capitalize on more lucrative short-term accommodations.

To address the growing crisis, the city in 2016 crafted a plan to add 800 affordable housing units over the next decade, accounting at the time for about 15% of the workforce. The city is closing in on that goal as 2026 approaches, but with a continually growing — and displaced — workforce, city leaders recognize they’re already behind.

Currently, about 12% of the city’s workers live in town, said Jason Glidden, who oversees the city’s affordable housing program. As the city prepares to help host another potential Olympic Games in the next decade, leaders are looking to set new housing goals for the future.

Living where you work

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Home construction continues alongside a park in Old Town Park City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

Park City has an estimated 8,500 residents, and it’s one of the only cities in Utah where the number of workers “considerably outnumber[s]” residents, according to the housing report. About 11,000 workers commute to Park City every day, with an estimated 8,000 of them making less than $40,000 a year and living outside Summit County.

Those mass arrivals and exoduses each day “significantly impact local quality of life,” according to the housing report, including unwanted congestion.

Frequent commuters know the ebb and flow of traffic — a relatively smooth drive on Interstate 80 until the Park City exit at Kimball Junction. Then cars crawl along the two southbound lanes until traffic clears a bit past the entrance to Park City Mountain Resort’s Canyons Base Area. At the end of the workday, vehicles clog roads traveling the opposite direction.

With just three firefighters living in the city they support, and with only about 20 who live in Summit County, Zanetti said it’s hard for the other employees to feel like part of the community.

Those who commute arrive with less sleep, and Zanetti said he struggles to find employees to staff special events, come to meetings or get extra training.

It also takes longer for reinforcements to arrive in case of an emergency, he said.

Affordable housing, Zanetti said, is the “only chance we have” to keep more firefighters local.

Megan McKenna, a housing advocate with Mountainlands Community Housing Trust’s Housing Resource Center, remembers growing up in a Park City where her public school teachers were also her neighbors.

But when she got older, finished graduate school and became a teacher herself, that wasn’t the case. Most of her coworkers, McKenna said, were commuting long distances or paying high rents. McKenna herself worked multiple jobs — driving a taxi, serving or bartending — to afford rent.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Megan McKenna, a housing advocate with Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, speaks with The Salt Lake Tribune in Park City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

“When your local workforce is not engaged and not able to participate in the local community, it suffers. You no longer have that village. You don’t have people that are engaged,” she said.

Now McKenna lives in affordable housing, in a townhome she purchased just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. That “changed everything” for her, she said.

“When I was able to buy an affordable home, I felt a sense of security, and a sense of belonging, in the community that I grew up in,” McKenna said. She left her teaching job to become a housing advocate to help others find homes.

Cook, the public school teacher who was priced out of Park City in 2013, feels the same about her home. She said that when she and her husband moved to Salt Lake City, she tried to continue working in the Park City School District, but it wasn’t the same.

“You just don’t have the same relationships with your students and the families, for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “Part of it is you have to leave the second the bell rings, basically, instead of being able to, say, meet with parents after school.”

Since she’s moved back, Cook said she’s noticed Park City’s population is getting older, and that there are fewer kids in the district. Looking out the window in her affordable home, Cook said there is one other affordable housing development, and the rest are short-term rentals.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A parking sign indicates the need for a residential parking permit near affordable housing in Park City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

“I’m thankful that we have the group of houses we do, because if not, my kids wouldn’t have anybody to play with. There’s nobody that’s here [full time],” she said. “You wouldn’t have that connection with your neighbors, which is part of why we want to be in Park City.”

Amick, who was priced out of Park City last fall, said she’s tired of obsessively searching Facebook and other sites for housing. Her lease is up in April, and she wants stability. She would love to live without roommates. She’d prefer for that to be in Park City.

She’s not sure that’s possible.

There are 150 people on the city’s “for-sale housing program” waitlist, and between 75-100 on the “attainable” housing waitlist, Glidden said. To qualify for affordable housing, applicants’ incomes must be lower than 80% of the area median income. That’s about $83,200 or lower for a single-person household, and about $118,880 or lower for a family of four, according to Mountainlands Community Housing Trust.

To qualify for attainable housing through the city program, a person must make between 81% to 150% of the area median income.

What about seasonal workers?

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Housing is seen near Old Town in Park City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

In addition to outlining new goals for affordable housing, city officials are also considering whether they should do more to provide housing for seasonal workers.

Some officials appeared split at the Feb. 15 meeting.

Mayor Nann Worel mentioned that nearby resort developments would require thousands of workers, and that addressing the seasonal-worker housing question was “critical.”

“Previous Councils’ direction has always been to only build focus housing for people that live here year-round. And yet, again, as we face this labor crunch,” Worel said at the meeting, “how does the seasonal workforce fit into that equation?”

Council member Ed Parigian said he didn’t think the city should provide housing for seasonal workers.

“I’m not in the business of providing housing for Vail [Resorts] workers, or any of the other big companies,” he said. “That’s their problem. They need to join the party.”

But McKenna said Park City relies on seasonal workers for its tourism economy, just as it relies on full-time employees, and should support them.

“We hear it all the time: ‘Not everyone can live at the beach,’” she said. “Well, that’s true, but if you want to have a workforce to provide these services for the amenities that we do have here, that people enjoy, then you need to support the workforce.”

That means Park City needs more apartments and houses, but also dorm-style housing, she said. She thinks it’s “dangerous” when you only address the housing needs of one of those groups. In February 2023, The Salt Lake Tribune profiled the living conditions of 12 Argentinian men who lived in a 1-bedroom, 1,062-square-foot condo and paid $12,000 per month in rent as they worked seasonal jobs.

However the City Council decides, Browne Sebright, the city’s senior housing policy and program development coordinator, said his department will recommend strategies to meet the goal — and those strategies will vary depending on who the city is targeting.

It could mean delivering “as many units as possible.” It could mean working to reduce nightly rentals. It could involve developing a “lease to locals” program to incentivize renting to locals. And it could involve solutions like an accessory dwelling unit program.

First, the city needs to set a goal.

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