College grad to homeowner in 5 years: City’s affordable housing addresses rentals and home ownership | TahoeDailyTribune.com

College grad to homeowner in 5 years: City’s affordable housing addresses rentals and home ownership

Jeremy Evans

PARK CITY, Utah – Linda Cooley graduated from Colorado State University in 2000 and moved to Park City. A few years later, she’s a homeowner earning a modest salary.

“A lot of my friends own houses in Heber City or out by the junction (Kimball Junction),” said Cooley, who works as Park City Mountain Resort’s recruiting coordinator. “I just really wanted to live in town, and I’ve been able to do it with affordable housing.”

The Mountainlands Community Housing Trust has been helping turn low-income locals into homeowners for more than a decade. Established in 1993, the non-profit 501(c) company has built 48 homes designed for ownership.

Forty-three more homes are currently under construction, with 25 others approved and in the books ready to be built. In addition to home ownership opportunities, 158 rental units are available, with rental assistance being provided for 85 percent of those units.

Although rent ceilings vary depending on the project, 30 percent of a tenant’s gross income goes toward rent. For example, a tenant who makes $10/hour and works 40 hours a week would gross $1,600 a month, resulting in their rent being fixed at $480.

In South Shore, a recent article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune stated the average monthly rent for a three-bedroom, two-bath house is roughly $1,200-$1,300. The same article stated rents are increasing at about 3 to 5 percent each year.

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Although fixed rent in Park City and open market rent in South Shore appears to be comparable, they aren’t comparable housing markets. Park City’s median home price is about $800,000, while South Shore’s was $475,000, according to recent article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

However, one downside for affordable home buyers in Park City is the units are price capped at 3 percent. Another downside is many home ownership units are located outside the town limits – requiring some people to commute 15-20 minutes to work.

“We’ve done a lot more than other places, but we still have a ways to go,” said Scott Loomis, the housing trust’s executive director. “There is some good dialogue between us and the city and the county. Before, the dialogue wasn’t that great between us.”

The housing trust gets its money from both local governments and through other resources such as fundraising and federal or state grants. One-percent of Park City’s annual budget is put toward grants for areas of need. In the past, the city has given the housing trust money through this avenue.

“I believe it’s the city’s responsibility to be a participant in affordable housing,” said mayor Dana Williams, a former ski bum who plays guitar in a rock band. “I don’t think it’s the city’s responsibility to build housing for employees of resorts (and other businesses). And participating is more than writing a check.

“It’s getting your hands dirty. If you get into the umbrella topic of affordable housing, you have seasonal workers like liftees as well as year-round employees like cops, teachers and housekeepers. They all have different housing needs.”

Williams also pointed out the city has resurrected its housing authority from the ashes following a 15-year period with little activity. More importantly, the city has also established housing mitigation requirements for developers.

For any annexations or market price projects of a certain size, the city requires 15 percent of them to be affordable units. For large commercial projects, the city requires developers to provide housing for a percentage of its employees.

It’s yet another example of how Park City is making decisions in an attempt to handle its affordable housing problem. How towns deal with the problem is what interests Myles Rademan, the town’s director of public affairs and communications.

Rademan moved to Park City in 1986. He’s watched the community grow from a depressed post-mining town to an affluent community with a median home price that’s surging toward $1 million.

“There are different issues that come up all the time in resort towns, but one reoccurring issue is affordable housing,” said Rademan, who also works as a consultant for other ski towns. “That’s not going away. Whether you call it affordable housing, employee housing, attainable housing, what you’re really doing is taking money from somebody and putting it somewhere for someone else. It’s a Robin Hood scheme.

“What you’re asking people to do is to put a burden that is not being met by the market and have them create something that is not economical. Economical is building mega-homes, starter castles, menopause mansions.

“That’s when I think the electorate decides it’s an issue we can no longer duck. It’s not being solved any other way. My contention is the resort towns that try and do something, that try and make it better, are going to be the successful towns in the future.”