Limited and Open Government

Government Overreach and Housing Affordability in Resort Towns

This article was authored by research intern Mitchell McCabe.

Utah is known for its beautiful snow and thriving skiing industry, but behind the picturesque winter wonderland, a significant problem persists: a lack of affordable housing for the seasonal workers who keep the resorts running. 

Each year, thousands of people flock to Utah’s resorts and other resort towns across the country to play and work in beautiful locations.

With median home values of $1.6 million in Park City and $600,000 in Moab, along with rents of $1,500 and $1,800 respectively, it’s no surprise that housing is out of reach for many seasonal workers. This is especially true as seasonal workers can expect to make around $14 per hour in Moab and around $15 per hour in Park City. 

The housing crisis in ski towns not only affects the workforce, but it also harms the resorts themselves. High turnover rates and difficulty in finding and retaining staff can lead to operational issues and negatively impact the economy of the town. 

Jennifer Wesselhoff, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, was even quoted saying there is a “‘severe’ shortage of workers,” and, “Almost every single business that I talk to is telling me their No. 1 issue is the workforce shortage and finding employees.”

This is why it’s crucial for resort towns to take action and address this pressing issue.

The high cost of housing in resort towns is a result of a number of factors, including a lack of available land, zoning regulations, and limited development opportunities. 

The solution to these problems is not to rely solely on the government to provide affordable housing. Instead, a more comprehensive approach is needed that involves the cooperation of local governments, ski resorts, and private developers. Local governments should work with ski resorts to find mutually beneficial solutions that address the housing crisis. Resorts, in turn, should invest in affordable housing for their workforce, and private developers should be encouraged to build affordable housing in ski towns.

For example, resorts can invest in employee housing projects, such as building apartments or dormitories on-site. This would provide affordable housing options for their workforce and also help reduce turnover rates and improve employee retention. Additionally, these resorts can invest in workforce housing programs, such as down payment assistance or rental subsidies, to help their employees afford housing in the area.

Vail Ski Resort is one such resort that is taking steps to address this issue. The resort has proposed spending $17 million on a project that would create 160 beds for staff on just five acres of land. But, the town council has blocked the development through the use of eminent domain. 

Eminent domain, the power of the government to take private property for public use, is a problematic approach in this situation. It shows a lack of understanding of the economic importance of the ski resort industry and the role that affordable housing plays in supporting it. It also undermines the resort’s ability to attract and retain a stable workforce, ultimately harming the economy of the town.

Instead of using eminent domain to block the development of affordable housing, local governments should work with ski resorts and private developers to find solutions that address the housing crisis. This could include incentivizing private developers to build affordable housing and relaxing zoning regulations to allow for more development.

It’s time for change, and it’s time for resort towns in Utah and across the country to recognize the importance of affordable housing for their seasonal workforce. By working together, local governments, ski resorts, and private developers can find solutions that address the housing crisis and allow these towns to continue to thrive. 

The use of eminent domain to block the development of affordable housing is not the solution, it is a shortsighted and detrimental approach that will only harm the economy and the workforce in the long run. It’s time for Utah’s ski towns to take action and ensure that their workforce has access to affordable housing, so that they can continue to enjoy the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”