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J1 student workers have fun, make money, struggle to find housing


J1 student workers move to Park City every winter to staff hotels, resorts and restaurants. And it’s getting harder and harder for them to find somewhere to live while they’re here.

Margiori Huarancca, 23, and Gonzalo Parra, 21, are typical students gaining international work experience and checking out a new culture: They both came to Utah to work for the winter, which is their summer back home in Peru.

It’s Parra’s first time and Huarancca’s third time working in Utah on J1 foreign student Visas.

Besides work, Parra wants to travel the state. Zion National Park tops his list of places to go. Huarancca said she’s back to earn money, be with friends and do more exploring.

“The past seasons I made many friends so that's why I came back," Hurancca said. "And also because I love Utah. I think I have many places to visit. There's many people, many students that come here to Park City to work hard, to take money to their countries, and also for the experiences.”

The two start their jobs in food service at the Park City Hotel Friday.

But first, they need a place to live for the next three months. They got here a week ago and stayed with a friend in a house in Salt Lake City. Tuesday, they got to Park City, and found a room they could rent for three days before its winter occupant, another J1 student, arrives.

They said that house has more than 20 J1 workers staying in it with as many as seven to a room.

Tuesday, Parra went door to door in Prospector, asking anyone who answered his knocks if they had room to rent.

Rob Harter, executive director of the Christian Center of Park City, said scenarios like that are playing out every day around town.

“There's not enough housing," Harter said. "It's really sad. We're trying to work, you know, with anybody who's open to opening their house, you know to do that. Also, we're trying to work with the organizations that bring them here originally and then of course, their employers. And that's tough. There's just not much housing that's been really, really challenged. It's got more difficult and then COVID Just made it worse.”

Harter said the crisis is affecting many mountain towns, not just Park City. And the reasons for it are multi-pronged. In Park City’s hot tourism market, property owners make more money from nightly and shorter-term rentals than they would renting by the month. And there are fewer rental properties available since the pandemic began, as people who previously rented out homes they own here started moving into them.

But with Utah’s unemployment the second lowest in the country at 2.4%, J1 workers become an integral part of the local economy each winter. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 1,300 J1 students worked in Park City during winter. This winter, according to Deer Valley recruiter Rebecca Wagner, 2,250 J1 student workers are expected in Park City.

People who are interested in helping these student workers with accommodations can contact the Christian Center.

On a happy note, one of the doors Parra knocked on was answered by someone willing to help – those homeowners are now putting together a spare room with a bunkbed.