Officials turn key on affordable housing discussion | ParkRecord.com

Officials turn key on affordable housing discussion

According to officials, Park City needs more affordable housing units like this one at Snow Creek Cottages, a workforce housing community the city built near the beginning of the decade. A panel put on by the Park City Board of Realtors, featuring several city and county officials, was set to explore the topic Friday.

Nearly everyone in Park City knows the need for affordable housing is dire.

But according to Scott Loomis, executive director of the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, not everyone knows what the situation surrounding affordable housing actually looks like. He said many people assume there is no affordable housing in the area — there are 660 apartments and 180 deed-restricted homes in Summit County, he said — and many also have a misconception about the people who need it.

In truth, families in Summit County who make even $80,000 a year are the benefactors of affordable housing because of the area's high cost of living, he said.

"I've heard it too many times, people talking about, 'Those people,'" Loomis said. "Those people are the people that are coming to your door when you call 9-1-1 and teaching your children and serving you food or driving the school bus and those types of things. They're all part of this community. Affordable housing isn't just for the very low-income. It's for all levels of income."

Loomis was set to attempt to clear up those misunderstandings, and educate the community about other aspects of affordable housing, at a panel discussion Friday, Aug. 26, put on by the Park City Board of Realtors. Other officials slated to speak were: Tim Henney, Park City Council; Tal Adair, Summit County Council; Anne Laurent, Park City community development; and Jeff Jones, Summit County director of economic development.

As well as educating the public, Loomis was eager to hear feedback from residents, who are beginning to understand that the city's future depends on affordable housing.

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Nowhere is that more clear, he said, than along Main Street or other retail areas in the county.

"You go anywhere all winter long, and even all summer long, and every business has a "now hiring" sign," he said. "They're not able to get the workforce, not able to retain the workforce. So, yes, unless you've got your head in the sand, you know it's a problem."

In an interview before the panel, Laurent, community development director at City Hall, said she hoped to highlight the progress the city has made in recent years on affordable housing.

Last year, she said, the city formed a commission to study the topic. As a result of that effort, the City Council designated housing as a critical priority, alongside transportation and energy, and established a lofty goal of building 800 affordable units over the next decade, which would accommodate 20 percent of the city's workforce.

Rhoda Stauffer, affordable housing program manager for City Hall, acknowledged that 800 units may not be a feasible goal. Aiming high, she said, forces officials to push the issue. Laurent added that a more attainable target is 500-600 units.

"I don't think they wanted a realistic number," Stauffer said. "They wanted a very ambitious number. I am very hopeful that it will achieve getting a lot of units established in many different ways."

Loomis, whose organization has long led the fight for more affordable housing, said he's been pleased to see local governments focus on the issue. He's been less happy with the private sector, which he said hasn't done its part.

For example, he said, there has been inclusionary zoning in the Snyderville Basin for the last decade, which requires residential developers to devote 20 percent of their projects to affordable housing. He said only four affordable homes — and no apartments — have been built.

"There have been several of them approved, but nothing's been built," he said. "Our demand 10 years ago was significant, if not critical, and nothing's happened with relying on the private sector. That's why the city and the county have both said, 'We need to do something about it.'"

Laurent said the City Council has updated zoning requirements recently to increase developer obligation. Additionally, the city is waiting for several developers to trigger decades-old housing agreements in the coming years by pursuing additional developments.

"The good news is we're keeping track of them, and we do anticipate about 200 or so affordable housing units that are owed to us by existing development agreements," she said. "They will come at some point. They just don't have a scheduled deadline."