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Workers find brutal rental market

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Aretha Granero credits her personal trainer in Brazil with introducing her to one of her roommates in Park City, once her plan to move to Aspen, Colo., for the winter fizzled, a casualty of Aspen’s housing crush.

Granero, a 22-year-old, came to Park City on Nov. 29 from her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, part of the annual arrival of resort workers, waiters, busboys and maids competing for jobs and, just as critically, places to stay in Park City’s vicious rental market, this year seen as the tightest ever.

With assistance from an agent, costing her almost $2,500, Granero says she was placed in a two-bedroom apartment in Park City.

Six other women and one man live with Granero in the apartment, where each of them pays $300 per month in rent. The number of people living there is kept hidden from the landlord, who Granero says is under the impression just four people reside in the apartment.

"We don’t have problems. When I wake up, there is nobody home, so I can do all my things," says Granero, a beginner snowboarder who is a waitress at a Main Street restaurant-bar, earning $2.13 an hour plus tips, the standard salary for people holding positions like hers.

Her living arrangements are likely similar to those of scores of others who entered Park City’s workforce at the start of the ski season, not realizing that rents in the city are soaring, driven by the city’s limited housing options and its post-Winter Olympic emergence as one of the hottest ski destinations in North America.

The resorts bring in huge workforces, housing some of them in seasonal living quarters, and the tourism-reliant industries like restaurants, nightclubs and hotels expand their staffs for the winter. But the workers, who often earn menial salaries or rely on tips, are left scrambling for places to live on paychecks that cannot cover rents in Park City.

Granero is a college student in Brazil, expecting to graduate at the end of 2007 with a degree in business administration. She plans to return to Brazil in the middle of March and hopes to visit New York and Las Vegas before leaving the U.S. If she earns $500 a week at the restaurant-bar, a job that the $2,500 agent arranged for her, Granero says she will be OK financially when she leaves.

"I agreed to live with lots of other people just because I want to pay less," says Granero, whose roommates work various jobs like bussing tables and cashiering at Park City Mountain Resort, adding, "I don’t want to work just to pay my rent . . . I can do (that) in Brazil."

Expensive digs

As the last resort workers for the ski season were arriving in Park City, in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a Washington, D.C., housing group released a report spotlighting the trouble the employees are having finding places to stay in the city, determining that the housing costs in Summit County in 2006 far outpace those in the rest of Utah.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition report finds that fair market rent in 2007 for a studio in Park City is $660 per month. For a one-bedroom, it is $916 each month. Fair market rent for bigger places ranges from $1,018 to $1,786, the group says.

The coalition, however, in a paralyzing statistic to the workforce, says someone making $8.71 per hour, the estimated average renter’s wage in 2005, must put in 58 hours per week to afford a studio and 81 hours in a week for a one-bedroom. Someone must work 1.5 full-time jobs to afford a studio and two such jobs to pay for a one-bedroom.

Worse, the coalition says, for those earning minimum wage, $5.15 per hour, a 99-hour workweek is necessary to afford a studio, equal to 2.5 full-time jobs, and, for a one-bedroom, the minimum-wage workers must put in 137 hours in a week, or 3.4 full-time jobs.

Housing advocates say rent is affordable if it does not cost more than 30 percent of a person’s income.

"You need multiple wage-earners to afford any housing," says Scott Loomis, who leads Mountainlands Community Housing Trust. "They either need multiple jobs or roommates."

The trust, a not-for-profit that assists people priced out of Park City’s housing market, keeps an inventory of rentals, holds roommate roundups and provides other programs to assist.

The weekly roommate events, Loomis says, have drawn up to 100 people in late 2006. At the same time in 2005, toward the end of the seasonal-worker arrivals, the roundups were attracting between 20 and 30 people, he says. This year is the third consecutive tight rental market, Loomis says.

"It’s a difficult, desperate situation," he says.

Priced out of town

After skiing the East Coast resorts growing up, Sam Smith, a 22-year-old from Peterborough, N.H., wanted to try the slopes in the West. Bigger mountains, better snow and a longer season, he says.

Smith, who arrived in Park City in the middle of December, shortly found the rents were much higher than he planned to pay. He placed an ad with Mountainlands telling people he is single, not a smoker, does not have pets and wanted to pay about $350 in monthly rent.

"I totally didn’t realize it was full and way out of my price range," Smith says, admitting that he wanted to live in Park City but was forced to look elsewhere.

Smith, who is scanning tickets at PCMR for the ski season, moved to Heber, deciding to commute to Park City each day instead of renting locally. He lives on Main Street there with three others in an apartment complex that once was a restaurant. Another two people might be moving in with him, he says.

The accommodations, which he found through the Mountainlands roommate roundups, cost him $250 per month and he must drive about 20 minutes each way to his job, traveling along S.R. 248, where traffic, some say, is terrible.

"I thought it would be too hard to find my own house," he says about the prospects of living in Park City, adding that he is happy spending the winter as he is.

Park City’s ski resorts offer some of their ski-season workers accommodations but lots of the employees are left on their own. Other businesses that expand their wintertime workforce normally do not provide housing, leaving the employees to find their own places or roommates.

This season, as housing complaints became widespread, a private-sector transportation company launched scheduled shuttle service between Heber and Park City and between Salt Lake City and Park City. The service is meant to tap a market made of people who work in Park City but cannot afford to rent in the city.

Smith, a scuba diver, plans to move to Seattle in June to take a commercial-diving course to prepare him to work on underwater construction projects. He says the cheaper rent he pays in Heber means he will have saved more for when he arrives in Seattle.

"This actually worked out great for me, so I can save a little money," he says.


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