Summit County’s housing shortage continues to grow
For Summit County’s working class, a recent report from the county’s economic development and housing director wasn’t any surprise: It’s expensive to live here, there aren’t many apartments to rent and a lot of people have second or third jobs to make ends meet.
Jeff Jones recently told the County Council that the county’s moderate-income housing deficit continued to grow, adding 258 units this year, not including Park City. That’s housing priced for people making less than $64,000, which is 80% of the county’s area median income for an individual.
Jones said that the overall affordable housing shortage has grown consistently in the six years he’s been here, though the particular numbers vary year to year.
The housing deficits continue to compound, Jones said. Over the next five years, Jones estimates a roughly 2,150-unit shortage for the people who work at places like restaurants, schools and resorts in Summit County.
There is some good news, though, as Jones reported there are 629 units of deed-restricted affordable housing in the development pipeline. And that’s not including the 169 units of workforce housing planned for the Canyons Village, enough to house 1,107 workers. That project has secured building permits, Jones reported, and is expected to begin construction in the spring.
The county has run a housing deficit for years, and there are economic pressures that show no sign of abating.
Wages aren’t increasing as fast as housing costs are, Jones reported, and the number of building permits issued annually is far fewer than the number of housing units required.
The number of housing starts has dwindled since a post-recession high of 301 in 2014. There were 111 permits issued this year through August, 167 in 2019 and 119 the year before that.
In 2020, the Summit County Building Department issued 39 building permits for deed-restricted affordable housing.
“The annual need exceeds the total residential building permits that have been issued (and it has) for quite some time,” Jones wrote in an email to The Park Record.
It’s unclear what the county can do about the area’s housing stock. The County Council has discussed using its borrowing power, and leveraging exceptionally low interest rates, to build an affordable housing project on county-owned land. That’s one of the uses discussed for the Cline Dahle and Gillmor Parcels of land in Jeremy Ranch and south of Silver Creek, respectively.
The Snyderville Basin Development Code incentivizes builders to include affordable housing in their projects, requiring 20% of the project to be earmarked for affordable units and allowing for increased or new density with community benefits like affordable housing.
But some well-meaning policies, like the 2015 requirement that no new development be entitled without a countervailing public interest, may have inadvertently hurt the area’s housing affordability, Jones said. With supply curtailed and demand continuing to rise, home prices have spiked since 2015, a result Jones indicated may be related to the provision in the county code that checks new development.
Home values have increased 9.4% year-over-year since 2009, with a recent spike beginning in 2016. The median housing sale price for a home in Summit County in 2020 was $950,000, Jones reported.
Wages, too, have grown, but at less than half the rate that home values have. Jones reported that the cost of living in Summit County is 37.1% higher compared to the national average, and that the average job earns a county resident $41,423 when adjusted for the cost of living in Summit County.
Without a cost-of-living adjustment, an average job earns a Summit County worker $56,791, Jones reported, more than in neighboring Wasatch County ($52,774), but significantly less than in Salt Lake County and the nation as a whole.
Those numbers pale in comparison to the county’s median household income, $103,815, which Jones said indicates the amount of wealth generated locally through capital gains and dividends from financial products.
There are more jobs than county residents, Jones reported, showing that many people have more than one. And the number of jobs in the county is growing faster than the population.
Another challenge is that housing units are being used as sources of income. Fully half of the county’s housing units are listed as vacant, which incorporates both vacation homes and houses that are used for nightly rentals. In the Park City limits, 70% of homes are listed as vacant.
State code largely restricts municipalities from regulating the nightly rental market.
Challenges abound for those who are trying to break into the housing market or who have relocated here relatively recently.
Countywide, only 12.3% of housing units are occupied by long-term renters, a slight dip from last year and a drop of two percentage points drop from 2000. Jones has said that a healthy service-based economy would have a housing stock that includes upward of 40% rentals.
Park City also imports thousands of workers daily, with more than 10,100 people commuting to work in Park City who live elsewhere. Other local zip codes are net exporters of workers, with the 84098 zip code seeing 2,300 workers leave its boundaries to work each day.
That contributes to traffic and environmental sustainability issues, with many workers using their cars to commute in non-pandemic times. In 2017, Summit County imported 16,300 workers daily.
Recently, county planning staffers have asked for more direction from elected and appointed officials. The disconnect in housing goals was highlighted in the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission’s negative recommendation for the Tech Center mixed-use project, which proposed hundreds of units of affordable housing.
County staffers supported the project, with planners offering a positive recommendation and Jones saying at the time that he’d welcome any help to address the affordable housing situation.
The 2015 policy that paused development entitlements in the Snyderville Basin sought to ensure that any new density would bring material benefit to the community. Summit County Community Development Director Pat Putt wondered in a recent public meeting whether county officials would prefer a “no-growth” stance, rather than a “slow-growth” one.
There are millions of square feet of entitled but undeveloped density in the Snyderville Basin.
Jones’ report was mandated by a law passed in 2019 that requires annual moderate-income housing updates and that the county provide a realistic opportunity to meet the need for additional moderate-income housing.
The Legislature has not required that counties produce a certain number of housing units, but Jones indicated that might change.
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