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Affordable Housing in Park City, a Hot-Button Issue for Many, Takes Center Stage for City Council

Lynn Ware Peek

Affordable housing was the central topic of Thursday night’s special meeting of the Park City City Council. KPCW’s Sean Higgins has more on the discussion and where the council is headed on the issue going forward.


Housing affordability is a complex issue in Park City. It’s also not a new one. 


Fitting workforce housing needs for the city’s businesses into development projects has been something city hall has been looking into for at least the last three years. Proposed amendments to the city’s land management code aimed at incentivizing affordable housing construction are on the eve of final approval by city council.


Skyrocketing construction and land costs over the past year have also led the council to look into re-evaluating their affordable housing model and explore public-private partnerships with local developers and nonprofits in order to make city projects more cost effective.


Councilmember Becca Gerber said at Thursday’s meeting that many of the local businesses she has talked to have had trouble hanging on to their employees in recent years. She said the current scarcity of affordable housing in the area and an unwillingness to commute are key factors.     


“So It’s just crazy that we still can’t find a workforce and the one thing that we’re hearing over and over is that people don’t want to commute in and out of Park City,” said Gerber. “It’s not worth it when they can find good jobs anywhere, they can have their pick of jobs down in Salt Lake, in other parts of Utah versus the rest of the country. This is a situation where we need them and we want them to feel like they’re part of our community, we want them to be loyal, that we want people to come here and work here because we just simply cannot function unless we have that.”


Much of the discussion on Thursday was centered around what affordable housing actually is and who it is really for. One metric that is commonly used to calculate affordable housing rates is an area’s average median income, or AMI.


But AMI can also be a deceiving measurement. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman told KPCW that the city’s current AMI is in the $80 to $90,000 range, but the average service worker only makes around $44,000.


Councilmember Steve Joyce suggested the city look at individual job and salary numbers more closely before settling on a specific AMI percentage for the price of affordable housing.


“Who are we trying to really provide housing for and how much do they make?” Joyce said. “Screw AMI, let's look at the jobs, let’s look at the people, let’s look at, you know, how much people are really getting paid and figure out what audiences we want to kind of attract and then back into AMI based on that, because if you turned around and said, ‘jeez, everybody that we’re looking at trying to attract and we’re comfortable with makes between $40 and $70,000,’ then fine. What does that equate to in AMI and what does that mean we should go do?  It feels like we’re driving this from a financial spreadsheet, not from the humans we’re trying to provide a place to be in our city.” 


Further complicating the discussion is the fact that service industry workers are not the only Parkites who could utilize some form of affordable housing. Beerman said the city’s seniors and young families are also finding it harder and harder to stay in town


According to the Park City Board of Realtors, the median price of a single-family home in city limits rose to nearly $2.5 million last year, an increase of over 15%.


Beerman said although there are gaps throughout Park City when it comes to housing affordability, council’s priority at the moment will likely be on the city’s workforce and addressing their needs.


“I think where council gets a little bit tripped up, or all of us get a little bit tripped up, is we have housing needs across the spectrum,” said Beerman.
“We can debate where the housing needs are, but I would say they’re across the spectrum, but I believe what council is the most focused on, because they feel like there’s an acute need and they feel like the current projects suit this best, is workforce housing.”


Council has yet to come to a decision on the fate of affordable housing in the arts and culture district at the corner of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive. High costs there have led the council to explore moving at least some of those proposed units elsewhere to cut costs.


City Council is slated to continue the arts and culture and affordable housing discussion into the spring.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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