Housing crunch squeezes Park City working class
She struggles to pay rent in Prospector and says Park City would be a great place to start her family. But Kaitlin McHugh doubts she could ever afford a home here.
"We have a misconception about what affordable housing could be. Some people perceive it to be too high density or maybe attract neighbors that they don’t want to have," the 27-year-old said.
McHugh and more than 100 others attended an open house Monday at Utah Olympic Park to learn about the dearth of affordably priced homes in western Summit County.
"I could never buy a house here," said McHugh, who works for a Park City architect.
Summit County officials recently hit a wall with homeowners when they suggested that developers who agree to include affordable properties in their projects be allowed to build denser neighborhoods in places like Silver Springs and Trailside. Planners envision reserving the affordable homes for households earning less than $67,000.
"If you don’t give someone the chance to own something, why are they going to feel proud and passionate about something they don’t own?" McHugh asked.
As a former ski resort employee in Park City, McHugh said "gestures" from resort brass about providing housing for their employees have fallen short.
"People can’t live where they’re working," lamented Parkite Crystal Ward, who is 25 years old. "It’s a typical conundrum and one of those things that if you don’t ever start talking about it, nothing will happen. I don’t know if it’s something that is fixable, but it’s definitely something that can be helped"
Ward described the rush to obtain 10 affordably priced units at Silver Star in Park City last week.
"They were so crowded that people were waiting outside to get in to get their packets," she said.
A median priced house in western Summit County sells for nearly $1.3 million, according to real estate listings Dec. 3. Of the 218 homes listed for sale, only 18 were priced under $500,000.
Prices for 79 of the houses exceeded $2 million.
Median priced condominiums and townhouses in Park City and Snyderville sell for around $465,000, according to current listings.
Paying rent is also difficult
For renters the scenario is just as dire. In 2005, the average hourly wage earned in western Summit County was less than $9. But to afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rate requires earning nearly $20 per hour to pay monthly rent of $1,018, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
"In every profession, many of those people, if they hadn’t purchased their house many, many years ago, could never buy that today," McHugh said.
But Snyderville resident Tim Anker said large affordable housing projects could increase class sizes at Park City schools.
"What’s the average size of these projects?" Anker asked in an interview at the open house.
The neighbors against providing development incentives to builders to encourage construction of affordable housing are not bigots, Anker insisted.
"I think people already know that [affordable housing] is a good thing," he said. "I think what people are concerned about is that it’s done right."
A new measure the Summit County Commission expects to approve would require about 20 percent of all new developments contain deed restrictions to make some units affordable.
Today there are 569 affordable units in Park City and the Snyderville Basin, according to Summit County planner Kimber Gabryszak.
"People know that affordable housing is necessary, but it’s full of misconceptions," Gabryszak said. "This (open house) is to show what the problem is."
Still, a controversial proposal for affordable-housing ‘overlay zones’ irked neighbors because, they said, financial incentives would encourage developers to build affordable units in their West Side neighborhoods.
"It’s not the affordable housing that’s the problem," said John Tuerff, president of Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth, a local development watchdog group. "It’s the incentive that you have to give to get the affordable housing."
On Dec. 12, the Summit County Commission is scheduled to vote on rules that could require 20 percent of all new development include affordable units. The public hearing is slated at the Sheldon Richins Building at Kimball Junction at 5:30 p.m.
The five most common myths about affordable housing:
1. Affordable housing is ugly 2. Affordable housing produces more traffic 3. Affordable housing increases crime 4. Affordable housing overburdens schools and infrastructure 5. Affordable housing lowers property values Source: The Campaign for Affordable Housing
Western Summit County at a glance:
Area median income — $81,200 per year; Number of seasonal jobs — 3,000; Top reasons employees quit Long commutes and low wages; Current number of affordable units 569; Median priced house — $1,275,000; Median priced condo or townhouse — $465,000
Source: Community Action Partnership
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