Slim pickings: Housing a struggle for seasonal workers
Scott Loomis, executive director of the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, which helps people secure low-income housing, remembers the days years ago, when seasonal workers coming into to town would crowd his office each winter, hoping to snag one of the few available places to live.
As he describes it, many of them would spend a week or two looking, ceaselessly working the phones in his office every day. And when any place became available, there’d be a crowd rushing to secure it. The situation these days is better, he said, though it’s still difficult.
Loomis said there are two major themes each year as winter employees make their way to Park City. And he expects this year to be no different.
"No. 1 is: there usually isn’t any housing," he said. "No. 2 is: everybody usually seems to somehow find a place."
Still, he said, "It’s not anywhere near as bad as it was at one time."
One issue that makes it tough for seasonal workers — many of whom come from Latin America on work visas — is they arrive later than they used to. Many of the rental units available require long-term leases, while the workers may only stay in Park City for a few months.
"Many of the seasonal employees arrive in maybe mid-December, right around Christmas, and leave in March, rather than coming before Thanksgiving and leaving in the middle of April, like they used to," Loomis said.
While that complicates things for workers, it can also be detrimental to landlords. Workers will sometimes sign a six-month lease and leave before its completion.
"A lot of times if they know they’re terminating their employment in mid-March, but they’ve signed a lease through April, they’ll just skip out on it," Loomis said. "There’s been some negative experiences."
Loomis said the best way for seasonal workers to eliminate the stress of trying to find a place when they arrive in town is to line something up beforehand. Though most workers want to stay in Park City proper in order to have easier access to the slopes when they’re off duty, expansion of public transit in recent years has made living in areas such as the Snyderville Basin a viable option.
"That opens a lot of possibilities for homes, as well as rentals," he said.
Workers with cars — often the ones who have them are coming from elsewhere in the United States — can also stay in Salt Lake City or Provo, though the commute, as well as finding parking in town, can be difficult. Some resorts also run busses from Salt Lake and Provo to Park City, but Loomis generally doesn’t advise going that route.
"It’s expensive and inconvenient," he said. "They only come up once a day, so if the bus leaves at 7 a.m., and you work at noon, there’s not much you can do."
While getting housing lined up before coming to town can save a lot of headaches, workers must also use caution when renting sight unseen. Loomis said there has been a scam in recent years where workers would wire money to an account with the belief it was to secure a lease. But when they’d arrive, they’d find that wasn’t the case.
"Somebody will show up there, bang on the door, and someone will answer and say, ‘What are you talking about?’" Loomis said.
Having dealt with the difficulties of the season housing market for years, Loomis said there is an easy fix: Seasonal employers should help their workers find housing, or even provide it for them.
"As a general rule, most of them just give them our address and tell them to line up their own housing," he said. "That’s about it. They don’t give the employees much support, and they don’t give us any support. They just assume the community will take care of them. I’d like to see the employers stepping up."
As for an immediate way to ease the stress, Loomis said people who are considering renting space need to help. Landlords can often make up to $600 for each bed they rent.
"It’s a good way for some of the local families to make some additional income," he said.
The Christian Center of Park City is one organization that has answered Loomis’ call. It offers a weekly "roommate roundup" event throughout November and December, in which landlords needing tenants or renters seeking roommates can meet people looking for housing. Rob Harter, executive director of The Christian Center, said the organization also offers seasonal workers a food pantry, a thrift store and computer to search for housing.
"They end up hanging out in our lobby," he said. "It’s kind of a place just for them to gather, get information, maps and food and winter clothes. We’re that place they come to get resources that they need."
The center also hosts dinners for workers on Tuesday nights. Harter estimated around 350 people attended each week last year. As well as food, the dinners feature karaoke, giveaways and an environment for the workers to make friends.
"We’ve kind of become their home away from home," Harter said. "We’ve heard that from both parents and workers. A lot of them do just get paid minimum wage. So having food, having clothes for cheap prices or free has been really helpful for them. It’s just an extra boost."
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