Amy Roberts: Time is right for new housing programs
A few months ago, I was listening to a friend tell me about her recent breakup. “He’s the right guy, but this isn’t the right time,” she lamented.
Being the relationship expert that I am, which is to say I have the credentials of a potato, I tried to console her with my wisdom. “Timing is everything, whether it’s love, sex, or avocados,” I offered. Maybe I should have added “or housing” to my statement.
After all, given that affordable housing shortages are a trending topic across the country, my breakup logic can be equally applied — timing is everything in the housing space, too. That’s true whether we’re talking about locking in an interest rate, finding yourself online the moment a new rental is posted, or being born in a generation where a new home was priced at roughly 2.5 times your annual salary. Unfortunately, right now the timing is bad for anyone hoping to find an affordable place to call home.
Nationwide, and especially in a resort town, the problem is largely blamed on the rise of Airbnb-type rentals. Those who used to rent their second (or third) homes or a room in their house to a local employee realized they could make a lot more money in the nightly rental pool. It’s much more appealing and profitable to rent your home over Christmas and Sundance than the entire year.
Of course, in Park City, this isn’t a new topic. We’ve always considered ourselves ahead of the curve. And as trendsetters, we’ve made affordable housing part of our local conversation for decades. But talk is cheap; housing is not.
For the most part, the City’s affordable housing strategy has been to acquire and require. It has acquired as much land as possible and built deed-restricted units here and there. It has also required developers to ensure a certain number of units are set aside for workforce housing.
Personally, I’m not a fan of this approach to affordable housing. The solution is limiting. Not everyone wants to own a home – it’s a lot of responsibility. There are uncontrollable expenses like HOA fees and appliances that unexpectedly quick working. Down payments are still a massive barrier. “Affordable” in this town is subjective, if not comical. Ownership binds one to a place they might only want to dabble in for a few years, and it restrains their ability to start a family and build equity. There’s also abuse of the system. So, in general, I’m a much bigger fan of putting our efforts and resources into affordable rental options, but that’s hardly a foolproof solution, either.
For years we’ve tried to balance the number of humans who want to live here with the cost of living here. We’ve made some strides. But mostly, we’ve applied Band-Aids to an issue that really requires surgical intervention. That’s understandable. If it were an easy problem to fix, we’d have done so by now.
Because it’s so complicated, there haven’t been many ‘new’ ideas proposed for decades. Until recently, when the City Council began toying with the idea of incentivizing homeowners to ensure whoever is occupying their home is a full-time resident. You don’t necessarily have to live in your house full time, but whoever is living in it would have to. In return for opting in and nixing short-term rentals from their real estate portfolio, homeowners would receive a portion of their property’s value, roughly 15-20%. There’d also be a permanent deed restriction on the property, meaning the next owners have to follow suit. And that might not fly with state lawmakers who aren’t exactly known for their long-term planning or out-of-the-box creative problem solving.
The idea doesn’t seem anywhere near official proposal ready — there are still several details to hammer out and numbers to crunch — but I applaud the consideration of something new. The status quo isn’t working. It’s the right time to try something different.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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