Affordable Housing Vs. Workforce Housing: What's Park City's Responsibility?

Sep 17, 2019

Credit Lynn Ware Peek

The Park City Council has made affordable housing a community critical priority and plans to spend some $40 million to reach their goal of building 800 affordable or attainable units within city limits by 2026. The 54 units that have come on the market since 2016 have been for-sale, gearing them toward people who expect to stay in the community long-term. This report explores the city’s role in providing housing for the seasonal workforce that keeps the town running in the winter.

Park City Mayor Andy Beerman says there’s a difference between affordable housing, like the city is pursuing, and workforce housing, which he views as accommodations for seasonal service workers.

"When I talk about workforce housing, it's something that I think the resorts, the hotels and the businesses in town really need to focus on filling," Beerman said. "The city’s more focused on what I would call community building, which is providing permanent housing to folks that have been here a long time."

The city’s 2017 housing resolution requires new commercial developments to provide housing for 20% of their employees. There’s also a provision for winter seasonal units, and developers can meet that requirement with dorm-style units. Beerman says mostly, though, the city encourages employers by leading by example.

“The city tries to do a nice job of providing seasonal housing for our own employees, and we've been very aggressive, in particular, with transit employees lately," Beerman said. "And then, I would say some pestering and persistence, just reminding everybody that as a business that thrives in this community, they have an obligation to help build that community and keep it healthy. There's also an economic benefit to them to have workforce here, so really, at this point, it's less regulatory and more encouragement and showing them the wisdom of participating.”

A recent letter-to-the-editor in the Park Record suggested if employers paid employees more, the city wouldn’t need to spend taxpayer dollars on affordable housing. Per Utah law, local governments can’t mandate a minimum wage that exceeds the federal level, currently $7.25 an hour.

A calculator for living wage—meaning, the income needed to pay for basic needs such as food, housing, and transportation—puts the hourly wage for one adult living in Summit County at $12.76. That number increases with household size and is considered the minimum income needed to prevent someone from seeking public assistance or experiencing consistent housing and food insecurity. Beerman says a living wage to afford Park City-priced housing is impossible to meet, which is why the city is building subsidized units to support year-round workers.  

“With real estate prices so insane right now, I think a living wage to really live comfortably in Park City proper is probably $40 or $50 an hour, and you're not going to really see that in any of our frontline type businesses," Beerman said. "They'd go out of business if they paid wages like that.”

Beerman says all employers would see a benefit from having their employees live in the community where they work but providing housing can be extra challenging for small businesses. When he and his wife owned a business, Beerman says they provided managers with the mother-in-law apartment in their house.

“If I look back with any regrets, I wish I had bought several units in the neighborhood while they were affordable for other employees," Beerman said. "It's very difficult to do at this point, for small businesses, in particular, to jump in. My hope is maybe one of the future city projects we can partner with a nonprofit, the city and maybe a group of businesses in town and do a housing project together. They could help them—otherwise there isn't really the scale to be competitive.”

Larger employers, on the other hand, require a lot of personnel and struggle to staff up due to a low unemployment rate and local housing costs. Beerman says it’s shaping up to be a crisis for large employers and they may need to provide more housing.

“I will say our two ski resorts, which are our biggest employers, probably do more than any of us in terms of providing for workforce housing," Beerman said. "But due to the sheer number of jobs they create, they need to do more.”

Workforce housing considers the need for safe and affordable rental units, primarily for the thousands of workers that staff Park City-area businesses during the peak winter season. In future reports, KPCW will examine what accommodations the town’s largest employers provide to their staffs.