Pricey market, complex issue

J'Nel Wright

Population growth could exacerbate issue in coming decades

”If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”

J.P. Morgan could very well have been talking about the current housing situation across the country, particularly in Summit County. 

It’s no secret that this hot housing market is leaving some homebuyers steamed. A shortage in affordable homes is something Utah has grappled with since the recession in 2008. “During the 2007-2008 recession period, developers were hesitant to reenter the market, and so we fell behind on housing production,” said Jeffrey Jones, economic development and housing director for Summit County. 

But the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on supply chains over this past year, combined with significant net migration, brought a housing crisis of supersized proportions to Utah’s front doorstep. 

“An aberration, anomaly or outlier? I’m not sure. But this last year, in my work on housing over many years, we’ve never seen anything like this,” said James Wood, the Ivory-Boyer senior fellow at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. 

So where does Park City and Summit County fit into this growth? 

The Institute recently published a report outlining Utah’s long-term planning projections. According to their data, Summit County’s population is projected to increase by over 40.6% from 2020 to 2060. Estimates for the number of households Summit County will add reach almost 80% (12,390 new households) by 2060. 

The study attributes this growth to two factors: natural increase, which hovers around 12 to 15% for Summit County, and net migration. That’s where Utah is feeling the squeeze. Data shows the projected net migration for Summit County exceeds 80%, and Wasatch County is among the nine counties that will depend entirely on net migration for growth. 

For a community that is already dealing with an affordable housing crisis that has made it increasingly difficult for workers to live in the area, the projections are grim — and complicate the effort among local leaders to make significant progress on the issue.  

“We have an annual demand for affordable workforce housing,” Jones said. “Somewhere around 400 units per year. And that’s based on our natural increase and net migration numbers.” But the term “affordable,” particularly in a highly sought-after mountain resort town, is subjective. 

Based on 2021 fourth-quarter stats published by the Park City Board of Realtors, the median price of a single-family home across Park City rose 32% to $3.3 million. 

School teachers and ski patrol staff, take a number.  

The conversation about affordable and equitable housing hasn’t gone unnoticed by local government leaders. But what level of support is there for affordable housing among residents who live in Park City? It’s a mixed bag. Although listed as one of the three key challenges facing Park City over the next decade, barely over half (58%) of people surveyed in City Hall’s Vision 2020 process said they supported living next door to affordable housing. Yet 45% of those surveyed said they would support paying $250 annually in additional property taxes to build affordable housing. 

That level of support is something Jones has seen before. “When you have a project that you’re building, it’s often your largest investment. And so people, a lot of times, don’t react in a positive way,” he said. 

Both Summit County and Park City have inclusionary zoning codes that require new developments to allot a certain percentage of their development to housing for families earning less than 80% of the area’s median income. And City Hall has set a goal to build 800 affordable units by 2026 and has completed or begun planning for nearly 500 of the units. 

But at the root of these efforts is a complex need to expand accessibility to everyone who wants (and needs) to live here while also taking ownership of protecting the features we love about living in Park City. 

Is there more the community can do? 

“The future of this housing market is hard to predict,” said Jayme Angell, general manager, Summit Sotheby’s International Realty. “Let’s just do this responsibly. We want to move forward, but we don’t want to lose sight of what were the selling points to begin with. Things like open spaces, community, opportunity, and unblemished natural surroundings are some of the reasons why people love being here, and it’s those things that are most at stake.”

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