Seasonal housing crunch is back on the front burner
November 18, 2014
The evidence, so far, is anecdotal, but the consensus seems to be that the 2014-15 ski season is going to be very busy in Park City. That is good news for everyone, except perhaps for seasonal employees who are at this very moment hunting for housing, preferably close to where they hope to be punching in and out this winter.
Amid the bullish predictions for a record-breaking number of skier days, local employers are on the hunt, too, for liftees, housekeepers, maintenance workers, chefs, servers and myriad other positions that are key to fulfilling visitors’ expectations of a world-class destination resort town.
Based on attendance at a slew of local job fairs and informal interviews with human resources veterans, there are plenty of willing and able job applicants. The challenge, though, is steering them toward affordable housing.
The dearth of seasonal housing is not a new issue. Elected officials and social service providers have been struggling with the conflict for at least two decades. Deer Valley Resort has addressed the problem by buying or leasing units adding up to about 375 beds to help ensure their employees have places to stay a quick commute away from the job site.
Park City Municipal Corp., in the meantime, has used its executive powers to build workforce housing, both seasonal and year-round. Most recently, the city added 13 units to its transit hub, specifically for bus drivers and other essential city workers.
Both Park City and Summit County have experimented with various ways to require or incentivize the development of workforce housing. For instance, participants in large scale developments, like the specially planned area at the base of Canyons, have been required to build or pay fees in lieu of building workforce housing. Those efforts have been met with mixed results.
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While local entities recognize the town’s dependence on a well-staffed service industry, state politicians, at the urging of real estate developers, have in the past balked at affordable housing requirements and have worked to pass legislation curtailing those efforts.
Also, in addition to political and economic factors, workforce housing proposals often draw opposition from surrounding neighborhoods. So, while affordable housing initiatives may receive conceptual support, the specifics are often hard to implement.
The whole gnarly issue moved to the back burner following the recession in 2008. Employers were consolidating their staffs, construction slowed, cash-strapped homeowners found ways to rent out rooms and the housing crunch softened. But that respite is over.
According to statistics from the Park City building department, the boom is back. That, coupled with ski-industry optimism about new links between Wasatch Front and Back ski areas, Vail’s ambitious entry into the Utah market and a fortuitous cold snap punctuated by blasting snow guns, has personnel directors scrambling to fill their rosters.
If the ski season pans out as predicted, workforce housing will be back at the top of the agenda in a serious way and Park City’s future success will depend on how effectively it is addressed.