Amy Roberts: The city’s latest affordable housing project — it’s not a good look

Amy Roberts: The city’s latest affordable housing project — it’s not a good look

Park Record columnist Amy Roberts.

A nation-wide housing shortage has been a reoccurring national news story for months. Across the country, home prices are way up, and inventory is at a record low. Interest rates have made some shocking jumps lately too. Just over a year ago I refinanced my house at 1.8 percent. Today, that same loan is about 4.6 percent. Timing really is everything.

Of course, in Park City, a housing crisis 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 as long as I can remember, city leaders, nonprofits, and developers have introduced various solutions to help curb the rising cost of living in Park City, but the efforts are a proverbial drop in the ocean and the never-ending wheel of problems continues to spin: Essential workers can’t afford to live here so they must commute, which adds to the traffic we all complain about along with environmental concerns. Alternatively, many of these workers might find jobs closer to their homes, which leaves local businesses severely understaffed.

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. Not everyone wants to own a home – it’s a lot of responsibility. There are uncontrollable expenses like HOA fees and appliances that unexpectedly stop working. Down payments are still a massive barrier for many. “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. Deeded housing restricts equity, which is the traditional way people build wealth in this country. There’s also abuse of the system. So in short, this solution comes with a host of issues; but I’m willing to acknowledge it might be the least-worst option.

There is no easy answer. So for a long time we’ve done our best 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.

Because the issue is so complicated, there haven’t been many new solutions to pursue. Though if a recent rendering is any indication, a new option is to build a centerstage affordable housing project that exudes all the warmth and ambiance of a maximum-security prison.

Last week, consultants for the Homestake affordable project presented the City Council with concept plans for the 120 units that would be located on the Homestake lot, which is adjacent to the site where the future Arts and Culture District will allegedly go. Someday.

The Council is considering a project. There is some worry the bordering Rocky Mountain Power substation could pose health and safety concerns for residents, and others have questioned the plans for commercial space in an already heavily commercialized area. But surprisingly, no one audibly gasped when the renderings were unveiled. Perhaps they were temporarily blinded by the sight.

The concept drawings are ugly. It’s like someone instructed a bunch of four-year-olds to draw 500 cement cinder blocks stacked on top of each other, but that group of children all had broken arms, so they had to draw the cement rectangles using only their toes, and then the developers picked the absolute worst drawing from the pile and submitted it to the city.

I think most of the people who live here understand that it’s not possible to have a booming local economy, excellent educators, well-trained first responders, and people willing to make our food and clean our homes without also ensuring they have a place to live. There’s no reason it has to be so hideous.


Freedom of faith follows Constitution

I have frequently been asked about the location and progress of the new Heber Valley Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a member of the Wasatch County Council, which is overseeing the process, I hope to address questions and provide a little background.

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