Applicants for affordable housing in Summit County address stereotypes
Jacqie Spell has wanted to purchase a home for herself and her two school-aged daughters since she moved to Park City to become a teacher about seven years ago.
Spell is an instructional coach with the Park City School District, helping with the professional development of teachers. She also nannies for a few hours every day after school as a way to save money for a home.
But, Spell said it’s been difficult as a single-income mother. She largely blames the real estate market in Summit County, which she says is pricing out professionals like herself. She has even considered moving to the Salt Lake Valley.
“I can’t afford to buy, but of course I want to,” she said. “Really, I can’t even afford rent up here either. But, I currently live in affordable housing in Kimball Junction.”
Spell’s situation isn’t uncommon. Summit County’s real estate market has been slowly edging out professionals and service industry workers, prompting elected officials to prioritize the need for affordable housing. While some units have been built over the years in Park City, it is not nearly enough to meet the demand.
Spell and about 44 applicants pre-qualified for one of the 34 units that are being built in the Silver Creek Village Center by Mountainlands Community Housing Trust. More than 165 applications were received for the units between Aug. 20 and Sept. 22 in total. Scott Loomis, executive director of the housing trust, said applicants like Spell are “exactly the kind of people we want to apply.”
Most of those in need of affordable housing are in situations similar to Spell’s — actively working and contributing to the community. But, a stigma still exists about the kind of people who are applying for the units, Loomis says.
“I think when a lot of people think of affordable housing, they are thinking of urban, inner city projects,” Loomis said. “I’ve heard comments like ‘We can’t have affordable housing next to a school’ when, in fact, it is the teacher who is going to live in that housing.”
The affordable housing units that are being built at the Silver Creek Village Center are priced between roughly $224,000 and $333,000. They are targeting people earning $85,920 or less.
“Most of the people who have this stigma don’t realize that it is the person who is serving them at the bank, teaching their children or treating them at the hospital,” Loomis said. “It is the kind of people who service them every day and make up our community.”
Park City bus driver Scott Koester has lived in Park City for about 26 years. He has always rented throughout that time, living now in the Canyon Creek apartment complex in Kimball Junction. He pre-qualified for one of the units at the Silver Creek Village Center.
Koester believes Summit County’s affordable housing shortage is directly tied to wages, adding “we’re often living paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t afford a mortgage and other living expenses.”
“I’ve gotten to the point where I am making a decent amount of money, but if you compare that to the prices of housing in the Park City area, it’s kind of high for the wages,” he said.
When Koester moved to Park City in the early 1990s, the community was just beginning to grow, he said. But, he added, all of the growth and development over the last 20 years is contributing to the higher prices of real estate.
“You want progress in the community, but is there a certain point where the city says we need to slow things down or figure out something different before we lose all of our workers,” he said.
Spell said it’s frustrating. She went to school for a graduate degree, but isn’t proud of her accomplishment because of her housing situation, which is similar to that of most of the teachers she knows. And it isn’t just teachers, Spell said.
“I feel like Summit County needs to prioritize their housing market with the community members in mind,” she said. “They need to think about the people that are the heart of the community and really create it — the cooks, cleaners, teachers and first responders. All of these people deserve to have a safe place to live whether they have degrees or not. If they want to work hard and are maintaining a healthy lifestyle while giving back to their community, they deserve it.”
Nearly a dozen Park City and Summit County officials sat on a public panel Wednesday to outline the way forward on wildfire management and to answer questions from residents.