Labor Day is a perfect time to campaign for affordable, seasonal employee housing
This weekend, Park City will celebrate two venerable traditions Labor Day and the town’s mining heritage. There will also be a generous sprinkling of references to the not-so-long-ago days of Park City’s "funky" era, when cowboys, miners and ski bums rubbed shoulders at the saloon and, after the 10 O’clock Whistle, sauntered home to their modest boarding houses, shacks and various improvised living arrangements.
At the turn of the century mining bosses were expected to house their employees and the town was peppered with an assortment of colorful dormitories, often segregated by culture (Irish, Basque, etc.). As the miners married and started families they built many of the humble homes along Park Avenue and Woodside.
As the mining days waned, and jobs became scarce, many of those miners shacks fell into disrepair as, one by one, their inhabitants moved away in search of paychecks. Just as they were being boarded up, along came a new wave of workers, attracted to the prospects on, rather than under, the mountains. Students, skiers, nomads and resort town entrepreneurs stumbled into a bounty of inexpensive lodging, wide open spaces and a steadily increasing choice of careers
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s that new generation of workers took over the town, first fixing up, then building new condos, houses and hotels and then embarking on swanky restorations of their earlier fixer uppers.
Though many have made small fortunes in the interim, most would admit the linchpin that allowed them to get a foothold in Park City was the availability of affordable housing.
This year, that linchpin may be the only missing piece in what promises to be a spectacularly successful ski season.
Park City’s economy is as strong, if not stronger than it was during the silver boom and it has a job market that our Depression-era predecessors could only dream of. But affordable housing is at a premium and many employers are already worried about finding living quarters for their winter staff.
Tim Dahlin of the Park City Christian Center and other community leaders are asking residents to consider opening their homes to young members of the winter workforce. They are also hoping that property owners will help to stave off the conversion of reasonably priced seasonal housing to expensive nightly rentals.
Park City prides itself on the level of service it extends to its guests. That, however, is dependent on the size and quality of the workforce the town is able to accommodate. The quest for affordable housing is not just an employer’s problem, it is an integral component of a successful destination resort town that will require creative thinking and commitment from local government and the private sector.
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Steve Berlack, whose son died in an avalanche in 2015, writes in a letter to the editor that “[i]f you want to venture into the backcountry, do it safely. Get the education you need. … Understand the forecast. Make conservative decisions like your life depends on it.”