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Park City, Summit County agree on housing priorities, cooperation plan

The scene earlier this year at a home construction site in Phoenix.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
The future of affordable housing in Park City and Summit County was a hot topic at this week's joint council meeting.

At a joint meeting Tuesday, elected leaders from Park City and Summit County addressed the region's housing crisis and ways the two governments could work together on solutions.

How critical is affordable housing in Park City and Summit County? And who should it be for? Those were two questions that Park City and Summit councils attempted to answer at a joint meeting Tuesday morning at the Summit County Health Department in Quinns Junction.

According to a staff report, Park City needs an additional 800-1,000 affordable housing units in the next five years. Summit County has an annual demand of just under 300 new units per year. In Park City and Summit County, just over 1,700 affordable housing units have been created since 1970.

Councilors had a pretty easy answer to that first question: affordable housing is a critical priority for the city and county. On the other hand, who it should be for was a little less clear.

Employers across the region have felt the pinch of worker shortages in recent years, driven in part because many employees cannot afford the rising housing and living costs in Park City and Summit County. According to real estate aggregator Redfin, the median sale price of a home in Summit County has increased over 36% in the past year to nearly $1.3 million.

During Wednesday’s discussion, the councils agreed that housing for the region's “critical and essential” employees should be at the top of the list. But Park City Councilor Becca Gerber asked her colleagues to carefully consider who is “critical” to the community when housing decisions are made.

“I would like to know what ‘critical’ means, and I also would just like to ask, who are we serving?" Gerber said. "It’s our job to serve the community broadly, and I understand that we need good staff and good employees to do that, but part of our job is to make sure that we are representing people who have been underserved and undervalued in our community.”

Representatives from the Park City Fire District, Park City Police Department, and Summit County Sheriff’s Office also highlighted difficulties hiring and retaining employees. No local fire or law enforcement agency has over 40% of its employees living in the county.

Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez said only about 30% of his employees live in Summit County, with several commuting well over an hour each way to and from work. He said the problem is more than just the cost of housing.

“It has to be a place where they can afford to live, afford to go out, have a comparable salary to take their families out to go to dinner, to go to the movies," he said. "But to have my staff be living up here, they have said they would move here in a heartbeat. They love it here. They love Summit County, they just can’t afford it.”

Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong said he also wants housing to become available to more people than just first responders, educators, and medical staff, but argued that that’s not just the responsibility of the government. He said he wants to see buy-in from the business community in order for that to happen.

“At some point, if we’re facilitating housing for all of those workers, without the participation of trade organizations like the lodging industry, like the restaurant industry, and the resorts in particular, we are incentivizing low wages because we took care of the problem," said Armstrong. "They don’t have to pay higher because we built the housing for that lower wage.”

Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson said the answer to the question of who affordable housing should be for would be found another day.

“I think for the scope of this discussion, I think, in essence, you can argue that everyone is critical," Robinson said. "We don’t have a community if you start shoving people aside, but for this discussion, I’d like to leave it intentionally ambiguous because we don’t know what we’re talking about. We’re not going to solve it here today. I think what we can solve today is get agreement amongst ourselves, the two councils, and inform our great staffs on where we want them to go.”    

There was a consensus among the councils that more cooperation and communication is necessary in order to effectively take on the region’s housing crisis. That could take the form of a subcommittee or regional housing authority with representatives from both Park City and Summit County.

Further details on a county-city housing framework could be discussed at the next joint meeting later this year.

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.