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Employers issue urgent housing plea

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

Although it has taken great strides in becoming a year-round destination, the winter season is still when Park City’s population gets popping. Not only are second-home owners and destination visitors filling the city’s condos and hotels, but an influx of seasonal workers from all over the world call Park City home, for a short time, as well.

Mayor Dana Williams says this leads to good service and a fun atmosphere, but it also leads to a severe housing shortage for those who come to take seasonal jobs at Park City’s three ski resorts and shops around town.

"I don’t think that we as a community will ever be able to house everyone that works here, but what we can do is look at projects that are geared more toward just the seasonal housing person," He said. "But one of the hardest aspects is trying to determine the responsibility as far as seasonal workers. That’s probably the toughest area of housing we have to deal with as a community. How much is the community responsible for, what are the businesses that hire seasonal workers responsible for and what is the government responsible for."

Williams said there have been major problems in the past, and it will take a united effort from the community, seasonal employers and the government to overcome them.

"I think, one, the city has a general philosophy that housing is something we want to be involved in, trying to figure out the type of housing we need. But it’s also going to be incumbent upon some of the major employers here to participate in the housing of some of their seasonal workers."

In addition to those responsibilities, at least to an extent, Williams said it is groups like Mountainlands Community Housing Trust and the Christian Center of Park City who will make it work.

Last year, the city gave a $10,000 grant to help the community outreach that was being offered by the Christian Center and its director, Tim Dahlin.

"When people like Tim step up, we are very proud that we have people like him who are willing to participate," Williams said.

Dahlin is preparing to run his housing campaign again this year, hoping to raise support for seasonal workers. In conjunction with Mountainlands Housing, the Center is trying to find Park City homeowners who are willing to rent out extra rooms in their homes to the almost 1,500 workers. The Center also helps to provide "food, furniture, Internet connections, social opportunities, transportation and personal care," Dahlin said in a letter sent to Park City businesses.

"When workers come through our center looking for things and they come in looking for everything like mattresses, housing, backpacks, jobs, anything then they’ll have their choices because of the people here who are willing to help.

"The employees are the renters," Dahlin said. "The people we are trying to line up are homeowners and condo owners who are willing to help. Most of the kids, I’d say 90 percent, are South American, from Brazil, Argentina, Peru, et cetera. We are also contacting potential employers, and asking them if they would offer a signing incentive to the homeowner who might rent to their seasonal employees."

By offering incentives to homeowners, Dahlin said it provides a little push that some people might need to help. For example, The Canyons is offering two day-passes when a homeowner signs up to house one or more of their workers, and then gives the homeowners two more passes in February if the workers are still living there. Restauranteur Bill White is offering two free diners to homeowners who house his seasonal workers.

"We’re looking for houses where people have a spare room or a spare couple of rooms," Dahlin said. "Places that are whole open houses, we’re not really dealing with yet. But we have far too many workers and far too little adequate housing spots. Last year we had to send kids out to Heber and that is hard because there’s only one bus. They try to buy a car, but then it breaks down and it’s a mess.

He said that some workers last year even stayed in the backseats of cars or in a garage, and the goal is to eliminate those cases.

"Some good things are happening already. We put some notices in with the churches and we’ve got 14 available spaces for this week, so people are saying, ‘We have space for two. We have space for four.’"

The Christian Center is working with Williams, City Manager Tom Bakaly, Phyllis Robinson from Park City Municipal, City Planner Pat Putt, Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliot, HUD Housing in Salt Lake City, other Christian Centers and many others to make it happen.

"We’ve all met several times and what we’ve decided is that the best idea is to find more available spaces in current homes," Dahlin said. "The inventory has shrunk, but the demand continues to be strong, and what will happen is that Park City will not be able to offer the quality of service people are used to because we can’t house our seasonal workers."

He said because many of the workers are internationals, offering housing is an opportunity to show the character of America.

"It paints a great picture of America for people around the world," he said. "Rather than the current thought of Americans as war mongers, or people who see something like Katrina hit and then do nothing, we’re responding to a need and filling that need because of people’s generosity."

Sharon Neu, housing resource program manager for Mountainlands Housing, said that renters and homeowners can go to http://www.parkplaces.org to either find housing or offer rooms.

"We work a lot with finding seasonal employees housing once they get here," she said. "We have a inventory list of available housing that is available in our office and on our website that ends up being one of the primary resources for them, but if there’s not enough houses then it doesn’t matter what information we make available."

Mountainlands, along with the Bad-Ass Coffee House, put on a once-a-week social called the Roommate Roundup, designed to give workers the chance to meet and find possible roommates to ease the burden of renting.

"It’s part of my responsibilities with Mountainlands, but I have a lot of experience helping people with part-time housing programs and affordable housing," Neu said. "It’s vital to the community to see that these needs are met and I want to do as much as I can."

If you are interested renting a room, have a room to rent or are a business willing to offer incentives, go to http://www.parkplaces.com.


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