Real Estate Update
Art: Don Weller
If real estate market prices ruled, who could live in Park City? Many of the employees of local businesses — bartenders, servers, chefs, teachers, city employees, police and deputies — would not be able to buy a home here.
The western side of Summit County has a scarcity of single-family homes for sale under $600,000. Not until you reach a price range of $800,000, in fact, are there more houses than condominiums listed on Park City’s Multiple Listing Service found on www.Utah.com.
“I would not be able to afford my home if I had to buy it today,” said Phyllis Robinson at a public forum recently. She lives in a two-income family; both she and her husband work in the planning department for the city.
Robinson joins others in saying Park City requires a mix of residents from different backgrounds, races, interests, income levels and needs to have a vibrant and sustainable community. The real estate market alone should not decide who gets to live here.
The public forum Robinson participated in was organized by the Park City Area Project for Deeper Understanding, a new group whose goal is to look at the changing face of Park City’s population and housing situation. Panelists from many different facets of Park City’s citizenry agreed with City Council member Candy Erickson when she said,
“If you live in the community you work in, you give better service.” In other words, neighbors treat neighbors better.
A loss of the working community living in Park City will negatively affect how well businesses can serve their customers, said business owner Greg Schirf. The same could be said for the local government and the school district. If employees all drive to work in Park City and then drive home at night, they are less apt to navigate the bus schedule, stay late to talk with a concerned parent, or help make decisions affecting the area.
“Plus, they’ll quit,” said Rhonda Sideris, owner of R&R Properties, a property management company. To counter this trend in a small way, Sideris has found and offered housing for some of her employees to keep them within the community and dedicated to their jobs with her.
Why Not Somewhere Else?
Housing is more expensive than it used to be. The total number of residential units added to Summit County in the first quarter of 2007 increased by 54 percent compared to the same time in 2006, but the value of those homes increased by 92 percent, according to a report from Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
On top of that, the remodeling boom on existing homes is increasing the price of houses as well. In the first quarter of 2007 alone, permits for more than $4.2 million in remodeling construction were granted.
Elevated real estate prices have steadily lured residents out of Park City and western Summit County for decades. Heber City in Wasatch County and Kamas and Oakley in eastern Summit County are well-known hosts to Park City expatriates. As a result, Wasatch County’s commercial life has blossomed, creating more and more demand for employees there. Kamas has grown enough to add two stoplights in the last handful of years and growing retail and restaurant industries. These changes equate to jobs similar to those in western Summit County, with comparable wages and no scary winter commute on U.S. Highway 40.
“Who wants to drive to a job when a similar one exists in the town you live in?” asked Sideris. The consequence is that increased competition for employees could mean businesses will need to offer higher wages, and then compensate for that need by raising prices.
And don’t fool yourself. It’s not just housekeepers or restaurant bussers who need help financing lodging. Even the superintendent of the Park City School District negotiated a housing stipend, paid by the Park City Education Foundation, to live within the district. (He has, incidentally, already participated in more community activities than his predecessor, who commuted from Salt Lake City.)
The Price of Sustaining a Community
Deciding how Park City’s population will look in the future is a deeply personal question, said Pat Putt, from the Park City Planning Department. “Collectively, we need to get over some things,” he said. He argues that to keep Park City’s strongest asset — its lifestyle options — the area must keep diversity in its social and economic structure.
But this does not come without a cost. “Diversity without segregation requires land area and subsidy,” said David Smith, general counsel to developer Talisker Mountain. Yet “subsidized housing,” a.k.a. “affordable housing,” has a price to taxpayers as well as an emotional cost.
For some property owners, the phrase “affordable housing” equals higher taxes, increased congestion, greater incidents of crime, and threats to property values. Not necessarily so, especially concerning property values, counters Erickson, who has looked at several other resort towns and their successful approaches to affordable housing.
But emotions run high. Other parts of the country are seeing the real estate market go down, so second homeowners feel the downturn more keenly than Park City residents. “And they’re bringing that emotion with them,” said Tom Calder, who has sold real estate in Park City for 40 years. Any time the market behaves differently from what people expect, they respond, said Calder. “It’s unnerving; it’s upsetting; and it creates an emotional reaction.”
The price of land in Summit County is unlikely to drop to previous levels of affordability. So to nurture a community that includes all classes, Calder predicts developers may have to be compelled to include more affordable units in their developments. This could cause backlash from developers who do not want to be regulated to this extent.
“What makes a community work is to have all classes of people … we need to cater [housing] to those classes. It’s vital,” Calder said.
But will the Park City area’s current residents demand what it takes to keep all aspects of its community intact? “I hope so,” said Calder. “I’d be surprised if we don’t do that, and I’d be ashamed.”
Monika Guendner is a freelance writer who joins the ranks of residents who would not be able to buy her current home today.