Task Force Working To Help J-1 Visa Workers Find Safe Housing In Park City
One in six seasonal workers in the Park City area comes from out of the country. They’re part of the international work travel student program using a J1 visa. For years, this program has helped local businesses staff up for the busy winter season but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a place for them to live.
In this second installment in our series, KPCW reports on the challenges of housing the thousands of workers who show up each winter.
Pete Stoughton with the Christian Center of Park City helped form The International Student Housing Task Force. Its purpose is to address the housing shortage that temporary workers must face every season. Stoughton says his organization has dealt with kids arriving in Park City with no place to live for years.
“There’s this continuing issue of seasonal workers who are coming in and either getting scammed or are creating problems and not having enough housing for these students. We have found that that is a population that gets marginalized quite a bit because they’re new to the country, they’re under-represented, they’re here for such a short period of time.”
Brad McCutcheon works with CCUSA, an organization that brings international students to the U.S. to work under the J1 Visa program. This winter, McCutcheon says they’ll have over 1,000 international students working in Park City.
“The Department of State actually mandates that both sponsor agencies and the employers are providing housing resources for the students when they arrive. And, not every employer has the resources to be able to do that. But if they can’t provide the housing themselves, they have to be able to steer students in the right direction to find the housing.”
Becky Yih has hosted J1 students in her home for about a dozen years. She thinks more people might get involved and be willing to rent a room if they knew they had support on things like contracts, charges and expectations.
“But literally, someone would call us, and we’d go pick him up on the street corner in the dark and bring them home with us. Most of them have been vetted through these programs. We needed a broader coalition of people involved in the effort, like city, county, hotels, resorts, recruiting agencies like Brad’s.”
Stoughton says the students report they have housing, but the standards of the accommodations many times fall short of what is acceptable.
“The housing is not up to par with both state standards, local standards and as parents, you know, reputation standards for Park City. So, we are finding, such as last year, where students are living in closets or there’s 36 to one house. And, those are historical concerns.”
Each fall, The Christian Center facilitates The Roommate Roundup. It’s an open forum where people looking for a place to live can find people willing to rent to them–but sometimes, Stoughton says that meant that they would leave the event with a stranger.
“Both the Christian Center and local community members started to feel uncomfortable with this because we didn’t know who was going home with who. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine putting my child in that situation. So, we as a task force we started thinking how can we do this better? And, we started creating some frameworks around that. We wanted to create a situation that was safe for both renters and the landlord.”
They’ve set up a program that provides support to the families who take in J1 workers. When a potential landlord works with the Christian Center to house a J1, there are rental contracts along with support systems that spell out expectations.
“They all are vetted on the sponsor and the employer processes. So, that there is an accountability where we can with the renter, with the student, we can connect back with the sponsor agencies, we can connect back with their parents and we can mitigate some of the concerns.”
Stoughton says the J1 housing task force addresses a small part of a larger housing problem.
“With this group, we’ve really limited the scope because that really does fall significantly on the city and some specific employers where that is a hopeful outcome.”
Stoughton reports that 100 students have applied for housing through the Christian Center. Three host families have signed up on their website. He believes there will be more host family interest as winter approaches.
Those interested in the housing program can find details at: https://www.ccofpc.org/