New affordable housing rules must be backed up with political will
The Summit County Commission deserves credit for supporting more demanding affordable housing guidelines for new town center and village developments. But let’s not go overboard with the praise until we see whether the commissioners, and the voters who put them in office, have the political will to enforce them.
Let’s also acknowledge that, at the rate Summit County is approving and building new commercial projects, the potential for 250 affordable housing units over five years as a result of the recent legislation still is woefully insufficient.
Dangling density rewards and fee waivers in front of developers as incentives to include lower cost housing in their projects is not a new trick. Depending on the economy, and the political winds blowing across the planning desk at the time of submittal, Park City and the county have tried an array of tactics over the last three decades to require commercial developers to address employee housing in their plans.
Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons have all had to fulfill evolving sets of housing requirements. Often, though, they have been able to avoid building units by buying into or contributing money to existing projects.
The ski areas and several of the mixed-use developments in Park City and the Snyderville Basin, however, have been held to tougher affordable housing quotas than individual businesses including labor intensive projects like grocery stores, property management companies, transportation providers and restaurants.
But, under the rules adopted by the commissioners last month, developers of commercial, industrial and recreation and resort projects may be required to provide affordable housing units for an equivalent of 20 percent of their workforce. According to federal housing guidelines, those units will have to be affordable to a family making $53,000 per year. That is small comfort, though, to service industry workers who make an average of $19,500 per year.
Park City and, to a lesser extent, Summit County, have attempted in previous years to address the area’s increasingly critical employee housing shortage, but those efforts were squelched by the business community. At the time they argued that housing regulations would hamper economic development and a free-market model would eventually entice developers to voluntarily build low-cost housing.
Instead, local merchants, who are scrambling to find employees, are beginning to see a free-market monster that should have been tamed a long time ago.
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