Affordable housing is an issue in most major US cities. Home prices have become too expensive for the average person to afford in many areas, including here. In the Snyderville Basin, the median price of a home is $1.13 million. In Park City, the median price of a house is over $1.9 million. In Kamas the median sale price is $600,000.
Condos are more affordable but still out of the reach of the average family of four. In the Snyderville Basin, the median price of a condo is $503,250. A condo in Park City has a median price of $787,500. That’s five to six times the median family income. Clearly, it’s expensive to live here.
Apartments are typically the answer to affordable housing in many places. A person making $15 an hour in a full-time job would qualify for a $1040 per month. apartment. There’s few of those available in Summit County.
So, it would be hard to find someone who says living in Summit County is easy.
It’s a hard problem
What we are fighting is the market itself. The demand for living in a mountain town is high, so that drives up prices. We’ve invested heavily in open space and restricted zoning for decades, which leave less land on which to build, thus driving up prices. We have a booming nightly rental market for key events like Sundance, so people make more money by renting for these shorter periods than they would for year-round rentals.
These three events work against being able to make a dent in the issue.
The current approach has challenges
Summit County’s approach has been to include a requirement for affordable housing in each new development. It’s a good goal, but it brings up a number of tough questions.
- What really is an affordable home price for our residents?
- Should we focus on apartments or homes?
- How do we build rules to ensure they stay affordable indefinitely?
- Who is the target market?
- How do we keep people from VRBO’ing their “affordable house” for serious profit?
- Who should be first in line for affordable housing?
- Do we really want affordable housing or do we want work-force housing?
- How are HOA fees accounted for?
- Are we OK if people get an “affordable house” in Park City but commute to Salt Lake City?
- How does Summit County pick winners and losers?
- Can we really manage affordable housing?
An example of these issues have come to light with the affordable homes in Bear Hollow. There are 60 affordable units in Bear Hollow with permitted sale prices between $178,000 and $463,000. One of these units came up for sale and the county had the right of first refusal to purchase it. What they found was that the main deed restriction was based only on selling price. It had no restrictions on owner occupancy or income limits. Furthermore, they found that the monthly HOA dues for some of these “affordable” units had stretched to over $500 a month. They also believe many of these units are being rented for more than the amount allowed in the deed restrictions. Finally, they believe many of these units will come up for sale and this one unit is not an isolated issue.
Summit County now must decide if it wants to allow the sale as is or fix the issues with these affordable homes. If it chooses to try and fix it, two main options have been presented. The first is that the county could assign their rights to purchase the units to Mountian Land Community Housing Trust and put new deed restrictions on the units. This would require the county to use it’s in-lieu fees to buy down the price of any unit priced above what is considered affordable for those making 80% of the Area Median Income. However, the county doesn’t believe it has enough in-lieu fees to buy down the price of all units that will come available. It also doesn’t have a solution for high HOA fees that make it unaffordable, as well.
Solution two is to buy the units at the current price, remove deed restrictions, fix the units up when necessary, sell them at market value, and then use the gains to subsidize other units somewhere else. The county would then be in the business of flipping houses.
It’s a mess.
You’d hope we are better at creating and managing affordable housing in 2018 than we were in 2000, but you never know. It’s complicated and challenging.
Causes us to make short-term decisions
Unfortunately, our desire to get as much affordable housing as quickly as possible causes short-term decisions to be made. This was evident in discussion between the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission and the County Council a few months back. The Planning Commission had recommended that the 300 affordable units that are part of the 1300 units being built at Silver Creek Village be spread throughout development. This is typically a better community philosophy because that way you have a mixture of homes and incomes throughout a development. However, because Silver Creek Village could take 10-15 years to build out, this would mean those 300 affordable homes could take a while to be built. Members of the County Council explained that we needed these affordable units now. Those members said that we need these affordable units built immediately to help solve our crisis.
So, we have a choice. We can do the right thing and blend the affordable housing into the upcoming community or we can quickly build all the affordable units at the front of the development and have it now. When we look back in 15 years, which will probably have been the better decision? The better decision usually isn’t the rash one.
Similar short-term decisions are being made in discussions about the Bitner Road development, where the inclusion of an affordable housing component will likely cause the council to approve rezoning the land. Once rezoned, the parcel that could have had one home on it will have seventy-eight units plus five thousand square feet of commercial space. What once was defacto open space will be packed with development.
Likewise, the County is looking at filling the open space it bought between Jeremy Ranch Elementary and the Burt Brothers with over six hundred apartments to help with affordable housing. That’s a lot of cars going past an elementary school every morning. That’s a lot of additional traffic every day on our roads. That’s a lot of open space that will again be packed.
While there are challenges with affordable housing, our community is making strides. Vail and the Canyons Resort Village Management association are likely putting in housing for over 900 people. Utah Olympic Park is building a facility with 146 beds that will be available for $40 a night or $600-$700 a month. This will provide housing for employees and athletes. We would assume Alterra will have to come to the table with something as well, if they want to compete for employees.
It’s really the component we’ve been missing. Companies should be stepping up to deal with a problem they contribute to. I hope this takes some pressure off our local governments to solve an almost-intractable problem.
I’m for affordable housing if we can do it right. I’m not for making short-term decisions that will have negative long-term consequences.
I believe our community is for “affordable housing.” Frankly, who isn’t?
Yet I don’t know if we’ve had the in-depth discussions that help us shape what we are really trying to accomplish. Those are the conversations I am hoping to have before we move forward with far-reaching projects.