Mountain ski towns are hiring their seasonal workforce this time of year. Some 5,000 seasonal employees will be hired in Summit County and as the fastest growing county in the state, Wasatch County isn’t far behind.
KPCW has the first in a series of reports about the challenges of housing the thousands of seasonal workers here in the Wasatch Back.
With old miner shacks being converted into multi million dollars second homes or fulltime residents renting their extra bedroom on Air BnB instead of to a seasonal worker, the choices for affordable, seasonal housing are slim. Summit County Economic Development Director Jeff Jones says rental costs are so high now that without subsidies from employers or housing authorities, it’s nearly impossible to house seasonal workers in the community where they’re employed.
Area Median Income, or AMI, is used to measure how much people can afford to spend on housing. It’s ideal to keep the cost of rent below a third of income. Summit County’s AMI is nearly $110,000. That means at 80%AMI – a figure used by affordable housing guidelines; a household is earning $88,000 a year. Jones explains what that translates to in terms of monthly rent.
“Including utilities, the maximum rent to be classed at the 80%AMI would be $1,756.80. That’s for a one bedroom. Then for a person at the 60%AMI target, then you’re at $1,317.60 and then at the 40%AMI, it’s $878.40.”
A 2016 Park City housing needs assessment shows two-thirds of all renters with incomes below 50% AMI have severe housing cost burdens because they’re paying more than half of their income for housing and utilities. Summit and Wasatch County wages for service workers - those working in the retail and hospitality industry, fall between $10 and $15 per hour.
“Janitors and cleaners. They make on average $29,911 a year. And so, if I take 30%, that comes out to a monthly rent of $747.78. So, they would be cost burdened even at the 40%AMI. And restaurant, they were at $32,851. So, the maximum monthly rent at 30%of income would be $1,144.00. So, at 60%AMI, they’re cost burdened.”
Wasatch County code requires that all new development projects must also build 10% of that as workforce housing. Those obligations can be bought out, by paying what’s called a fee in lieu - and the funds go towards other affordable housing in the county.
Wasatch County Manager Mike Davis says with the development planned around the Jordanelle Reservoir, including the massive Mayflower Mountain Resort project, the need for workforce housing will only grow.
“We do get some seasonal housing now in Wasatch County. I know as Deer Valley and other resorts bring their workforce in, some of them find places to live in Wasatch County as well for just the ski season and then they’re gone. So, we haven’t dealt a lot with that and obviously we’re going to be dealing a lot more with it as this Jordanelle area develops.”
Between 2010 and 2018, Summit County’s population grew 16% -- adding about 5,800 new residents. The number of jobs, on the other hand, grew by 37%. Jones says the trends in population and job growth along with the lag in building has created a dearth of housing for workers.
“So, we’ve added 8,353 jobs during that same period of time. So, when you’ve got that span between employment growth and population growth and then if you look at our building permit numbers, then you’ll see that our building permit numbers have gone down during that period of time. For 2018, we had 119 permits that were issued. And when you think about it in your mind, you have to say well 50%of those are second homes. Park City’s much higher. 70%of the homes are classified as unoccupied.”
The resort economies of Summit and Wasatch County rely on hiring thousands of seasonal workers each winter. Stay tuned for future reports as KPCW addresses the issues through a series of reports on the challenges of housing that workforce.