Workforce housing | ParkRecord.com

Workforce housing

More Dogs on Main

By Tom Clyde
Park Record columnist

Over the last few weeks, the problems of workforce housing have hit the front page.

The Canyons Village Management Association — the real estate development arm at the Canyons and not part of Vail Resorts — proposes building all its mandated employee housing at once.

Under the association's approval, the housing requirement is phased, with housing to be provided as they reach various stages of build out at the Canyons Village. It's alarming Canyons Village is only 25 percent built out.

The developers have come to the county with a proposal to accelerate building the employee housing. They are fussing over the numbers, but it could be housing for upwards of 900 people in a variety of configurations. A lot of it would probably be dormitory-type housing for the seasonal workers at the resort and the hotels at the base. Nin hundred people sounds like a lot, but when you look at the 11,000 people commuting up from Salt Lake every day, it feels like a comparative drop in the bucket.

If you want to start a good political argument, without even mentioning Trump, workforce housing is about as radioactive a topic as any.

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Under the Canyons' proposal, it would have 50 percent of the housing on line by 2019, and the balance completed in 2021. That seems like a ways off, but the given reality of getting a project that size designed, approved, financed and built is pretty ambitious.

So far, it's asking for a clarification on the number of people to be housed and a height change to allow four story buildings. My guess is there will be some other sweeteners requested in exchange for building the housing units sooner than the approval now requires, and it might well be worth it.

Against the proposal was news the Fire District was shutting down an operation in the old Colby School/Snowed Inn building, which was housing about 50 people. They were living in a building with one kitchen and somewhere between four and seven bathrooms. The report was that people were paying $400 a month to have a spot in a room with six bunk beds. That may have been an acceptable college dorm situation years ago, but seems pretty Spartan now. For the people occupying the rooms, who work long hours in the restaurant and lodging businesses, it was the only option available. It also seems expensive for what it was.

The Fire District shut it down, though had the wisdom to do it over an extended period, so the code enforcement didn't pitch a bunch of people out in the snow. I don't know what their options are as ski season winds down. It's not like they are being invited to move into the now-vacant hotel rooms. But the conditions were apparently not considered so dangerous to merit emergency dislocations.

It's a long wait between now and 2019 when those new rooms become available at Canyons Village. Meanwhile we keep adding hotels and restaurants and employees with no place to live. That leaves a segment of our community, who we hardly see but absolutely depend on to keep the resort economy functioning, without any good options.

We've done a fair amount of workforce housing in the area through the years. Mountainland Community Housing has been effective in providing and managing rental and for sale units. But it clearly isn't enough. The City has done some, and has ambitious goals for housing. But some of their "affordable" units are for-sale housing in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. Even the very best dishwashers would find that beyond reach.

As the gentrification of Park City neighborhoods ratchets up, the affordable housing options are disappearing. If you want to start a good political argument, without even mentioning Trump, workforce housing is about as radioactive a topic as any. Is it the City's (meaning the taxpayers, meaning us) obligation to subsidize housing for the employees of the resorts, hotels and restaurants? Is it possible for the resorts to pay employees enough to rent in a town where rents are so absurdly high?

Deer Valley has provided a lot of housing for its employees, both in town and with properties out of town. Vail, at the corporate level, has committed $30 million company-wide for employee housing. That's not going to go very far, though they do own land they could build on, eliminating one of the biggest cost barriers.

So maybe the biggest employers have made an effort, and can do more. Can smaller employers realistically be held to the same standard? How much more would dinner on Main Street cost if the rack of lamb had to amortize a bunch of dorm rooms for the kitchen staff? On the other hand, how will that expensive dinner taste if there's nobody in the kitchen to prepare it? Can a hotel maintain a five-star rating if the guests have to vacuum their own rooms?

This is an existential problem for our community.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.