The American dream in Park City hinges on the draw of a pingpong ball
City Hall selects rank-and-file workers to purchase housing in two projects
September 15, 2017
Kara Cook, a first-grade teacher at Parley's Park Elementary School, makes the commute from the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City each school day, navigating the traffic headed into Park City to reach the Kearns Boulevard campus.
A 29-year-old Park City native who has been a teacher for five years, Cook lives with her husband, who is a bartender at The Spur Bar & Grill on Main Street, and their 2-year-old daughter. The Cook family, like so many others, has been priced out of Park City's resort-driven real estate market, the most expensive in the state.
On Tuesday evening, during what will likely be remembered as a seminal event in the decades-long efforts to house more members of the rank-and-file work force in Park City, the Cook family and others won the right to purchase residences inside the city limits as part of City Hall's aggressive housing program. Units in two projects — 1450-1460 Park Ave. in Old Town and the Central Park Condominiums on Prospector Avenue – were available in the lottery.
It was an extraordinary scene inside the packed Park City Council chambers at the Marsac Building as single people, couples and families anxiously watched as Park City Councilors Nann Worel and Becca Gerber slowly turned the wire bin containing numbered pingpong balls and selected balls that, essentially, represented the possibility for someone to realize part of the American dream, home ownership.
There were cheers from the crowd as each person whose pingpong ball was drawn suddenly realized it was their number. They quickly moved to the front of the chambers to make the selection official with initial sales paperwork. Mayor Jack Thomas, members of the Park City Council and other City Hall officials were there to congratulate them.
The Cook family's pingpong ball was drawn, leading to a burst of excitement. As a teacher, she had earlier been deemed an essential employee for the purposes of the lottery. The designation gave her priority in the four-tier lottery over some of the others seeking to purchase a unit.
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"For me, it's a chance to get back to my hometown and raise my daughter here," she said, adding, "It means everything to be back. This is where we always wanted to be. I never thought I'd be able to live in Park City again, especially in town."
The Cooks on Tuesday evening won the right to purchase a two-bedroom house at a municipal development under construction at 1450-1460 Park Ave. It is seen as a desirable location just steps from City Park and within easy walking distance of Main Street, the Park City Library and Park City Mountain Resort. It is also located along a bus route.
"She can have the park in her backyard," Cook said about her daughter.
More housing wanted
Park City leaders of various political stripes with near unanimity have seen housing as a priority at some level for more than a generation. It was clear to them starting as early as the 1980s that the rank-and-file workers, like those toiling in the lodging, restaurant and resort industries, would not be able to afford Park City housing as prices started to climb with few interruptions to the increases.
City Hall requires large developers build housing restricted to the work force as part of project approvals, and not-for-profit organizations like Mountainlands Community Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity have contributed to the efforts. The municipal government has also agreed to provide assistance over the years through loans and waivers of fees, as examples. The current roster of elected officials has made housing a critical priority, and they see themselves as having made significant advances.
The projects on the 1400 block of Park Avenue and Prospector Avenue represent progress for City Hall after years of instead assisting others with work force or otherwise restricted developments. Leaders have set a goal of adding 800 units to the restricted housing stock by 2026. Park City elected officials over the years, including the current ones, see the housing program as having broad community benefits. The housing cuts commuter traffic along the heavily traveled entryways, ensures socioeconomic diversity and boosts community pride, they say.
The eight houses in the Park Avenue project are priced at between $192,153 for a 750-square-foot one-bedroom and $280,291 for a 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom. The 11 units in the Central Park Condominiums run from $168,136 for a 500-square-foot studio to $288,300 for two-bedroom units of 1,050 square feet. The numbers are well below market prices, particularly at the Park Avenue location. City Hall anticipates construction will be completed at 1450-1460 Park Ave. in the middle of October with buyer closings expected to start a month later. The Central Park Condominiums are expected to be completed in December followed by closings at the beginning of 2018. The buyers would move in shortly after the closings.
"Extremely personal and emotional. I know what this means to them," Mayor Jack Thomas said in an interview during the selections. "It's personal to me because I can identify with them trying to find a place to live. I can identify with that ladder of movement to a better life."
Thomas acknowledged many people in Park City have been left behind as the local economy boomed over the years, most recently during an exceptionally strong exit from the recession. The units that were available on Tuesday in combination with the plans to build more show a "shift in context, the way we hold our community," he said.
"This is only a drop in the bucket. We need hundreds and hundreds more," the mayor said.
Establishing a life
The selections on Tuesday followed a lengthy process that started in the spring as application forms were drafted asking detailed questions about a person's financial situation. City Hall set eligibility based on the area median income of various household sizes and created the tiered system involving groups like senior citizens, essential employees and the general qualifying population. The qualifying income range in three of the tiers ran between $43,418 annually for a one-person household and $83,754 per year for a three-person household. A fourth tier ran from $72,380 annually for a one-person household to $93,060 for a three-person household. Income benchmarks rose with the size of a family.
Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, a not-for-profit organization, collected the applications on behalf of City Hall. Ninety-nine people filed applications seeking to acquire a unit in one of the municipal projects or a unit in one of two developments in the Snyderville Basin. The organization in July said 69 of the applications listed the Park Avenue project as the first choice and another 11 labeled it the second choice. Eight people, meanwhile, indicated the Central Park Condominiums was their first choice while 43 identified the location as their second choice. Upward of 80 percent of the 99 applications listed one of the projects inside the Park City limits as their first choice.
Brendan Wall, who is 28 and works for a ski-tuning shop in Park City, lives with his girlfriend, an employee at the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center, in a mother-in-law apartment in Park Meadows. Wall and his girlfriend saw the timing of the housing as suiting their own plans. They joined the others at the Marsac Building on Tuesday with hopes of securing the right to acquire one of the units. Their pingpong ball was selected. They want one of the two-bedroom units at the Central Park Condominiums. The selection was fortuitous. He said he may have needed to move out of Park City had he not been able to purchase one of the units.
Young people need to relocate to Salt Lake City or another commuter city if they cannot afford to live in Park City, he said. And, Wall said, millennials typically do not buy houses. Wall and his girlfriend will no longer be in a housing "purgatory" once the purchase of the condominium is finalized, he said. Wall said it is difficult for young professionals to establish themselves in Park City as they struggle through rental situations, describing that he is appreciative of the City Hall housing efforts and that it is more likely the couple will start a family after having won the right to acquire a residence.
"It makes it so that me and my girlfriend can go ahead and we can, basically, become part of the community and work in our professions and actually establish a life in this town," Wall said. "Before, if we were constantly renting one-bedroom apartments, the possibility of having kids is very hard, but now that we have a two-bedroom apartment, it's now a reality."