For international workers, Park City housing can be harrowing – this group wants to fix that
For the past 12-odd years, Becky Yih has dedicated a portion of her home to providing housing for the international seasonal workers who make Park City tick by running chairlifts, waiting tables and parking cars during the winter.
And that means sometimes coming in clutch for people with less-than-perfect English who are trying to figure out their housing situation a continent away.
“I’ve had people (say when they matched up with us), ‘I was about to just not come,’” the retired microbiologist and Park City resident says. “I mean, every single time they’re at that frantic, worried edge of not finding a place to stay.”
Yih is part of a work group organized by the Christian Center of Park City called the Student Housing Task Force, including residents and representatives of public and private stakeholders from around the area. The task force is set to hold the first of a planned series of public informational meetings at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Christian Center’s headquarters at 1283 Deer Valley Drive and a second next month at Bill White Farms.
“We are looking for families and primary homeowners who are in residence who will rent out a space, room or portion of their home to a student – or a couple – while they are in residence,” Pete Stoughton, director of programs at the Christian Center, said at a meeting in the Marsac Building Monday.
Yih and Stoughton were joined by representatives of City Hall, the Summit County courthouse, Deer Valley Resort and student sponsor agencies that interact with the State Department. Mountainlands Community Housing Trust is also active in the effort, though its representative was absent Monday.
Several high-profile incidents have shown the effects of the area’s housing shortage on seasonal workers. Park City Council Lynn Ware Peek said in a meeting January that one couple from Argentina had been led to believe they would receive full housing accommodations during their stay.
They ended up living in a basement with 14 other tenants with an unheated utility closet as their space, Peek said at the time.
The issue doesn’t just affect ski towns like Park City and Aspen – the task force is incorporating ideas from ocean destinations like Myrtle Beach and Cape Cod that face many of the same issues. Stoughton said he hopes the group’s emphasis on student seasonal workers provides a foothold for a broader effort to help more workers find beds in Park City.
Jeff Jones, director of economic development and housing for Summit County, said officials and stakeholders from Wasatch and Salt Lake counties are welcome to join in the process as their roles in the Park City tourism industry become more prominent and summer business trends upward.
“It’s going to take a collective effort to find some solution to come up with those workers,” Jones said.
Other tourism-reliant communities have come up with their own housing incentives. Breckenridge, Colorado’s town council recently approved a cash incentive for local property owners willing adopt deed-restricted status on their units for year-round workforce housing. A number of other ski town anchor resorts have implemented “turns for tenants” programs that provide season passes to residents who house seasonal workers.
“We aren’t modeling off those but we are definitely informing off those,” Yih said.
Housing seasonal workers is generally a three-month commitment, and a regulated system for vetting both landlords and tenants as well as developing lease terms would make it a less daunting task for others than it had been for Yih when she started renting out to J-1 holders, she said. As of now, her terms are simple: Pay rent, be respectful and don’t forget about the litter box.
“I still felt like I was still flapping in the breeze (starting out) and this program will include a lot more structure and materials for the homeowner,” she said.
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