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Park City, Heber leaders discuss positive economic impacts of affordable housing

Developer Tony Tyler talks during a panel discussion about affordable housing at the 2024 Wasatch Back Economic Summit.
Parker Malatesta
Developer Tony Tyler talks during a panel discussion about affordable housing at the 2024 Wasatch Back Economic Summit.

A panel of nonprofit, government, and private sector housing advocates discussed the state of affordable development across the Wasatch Back Tuesday.

The Wasatch Back Economic Summit, organized by the Park City and Heber Valley chambers, brought together government officials and business leaders at the Grand Summit hotel in Canyons Village Tuesday.

During a breakout session at the event focused on affordable housing, Heber City Councilmember Mike Johnston said the lack of workforce housing is having a major impact on local businesses.

“It’s a huge problem for us," Johnston said. "We cannot find workers. We have no workforce housing. All we can hire is people that already live in Wasatch or Summit [counties] and we’ve been cherry picking those people out of Park City… We can’t hire firefighters. We have firefighters that live in Malad, Idaho and Santaquin and Nephi, I mean 1-2 hour drive. We can’t hire police officers. We can’t hire teachers. We can’t hire people to work in the hospital. We’re losing businesses.”

Johnston said the crisis has been created by a number of variables including the desirability of the Wasatch Back, a limited supply of land, and a glut of single-family housing that isn’t affordable for the younger population.

Shellie Barrus with Habitat for Humanity said building more affordable housing requires the will of politicians and the public. And, she said there is room to improve when it comes to communicating affordable housing’s positive benefits.

“Better educational outcomes that are multi-generational, as well as health outcomes, and we’ve been tracking that information forever," Barrus said. "It’s good for the community. It’s good for the homeowners. It’s good for the people that we’re trying to serve. But really it’s also good for our economy.”

Tony Tyler with Columbus Pacific Development said broader support also requires dispelling myths about people living in affordable housing.

“Those people are the ones that are educating your children," Tyler said. "They’re the ones that are treating your diseases. They’re the ones that are responding to accidents. They’re the ones fighting fires. These are the people that make up our community and so you’ve got to create and enable policies that will have a viable economic impact to for-profit developers in order to make that deed-restricted affordable home viable.”

Jason Glidden, the new executive director of Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, said the issue requires urgency. Glidden also said policy is important so affordable projects can work financially. He said nonprofits, not only private developers, also need help to make projects financially viable.

“I do think we’re going to have to get creative," Glidden said. We’re going to have to start thinking outside the box. We’re going to start having to ask some really hard questions when it comes to things like zoning and… the bad words of density and height. Those conversations are going to have to be had. Elected officials are going to make some tough decisions that may not be popular decisions, but I think it’s going to be needed to move this needle in the right direction.”

The panel agreed that the affordable housing crisis will likely never be fully solved, stressing the need for continuous progress.