PARK CITY When Roger Harlan moved here in the 1980s, he was able to purchase a midsize home in what would become one of the world's premier ski destination cities.
"Who would want to come to Park City?" he remembers thinking at the time.
But a few decades later, neither Harlan nor a majority of his fellow City Council members would be able to buy homes in Park City, the retired Christian youth worker said.
And the necessary community work force of teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters has been all but edged out of the housing market.
During the first quarter of 2008, homes here sold for an average of more than $1.1 million each, according to the Utah Association of Realtors. Elsewhere in Utah, the average was a quarter of that closer to $243,000.
Thankfully, say Park City officials, leaders of this eclectic old mining town saw the problem coming and have taken mitigating steps.
About 35 percent of the city's total work force lives within its boundaries, and city officials hope to keep it that way, said affordable housing director Phyllis Robinson. In 2005, there were about 450 affordable, deed-restricted units in the city, making up about 6 percent of housing. City officials estimate that 300 additional units will be needed by 2010.
Even the so-called affordable housing could be out of reach for many, however.
New two-bedroom condominiums are expected to cost around $200,000.
An older city-controlled affordable unit recently sold for close to $300,000, said Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy.
"Most of our teachers simply can't afford to live in the area," said the district head, who was given a sizable housing stipend when he came to the district a year ago.
Some 65 percent of school district employees live within its boundaries, said district spokesman Tim McConnell, and a majority of those are close to retirement or living with better-paid spouses. Another 25 percent of district employees live in Summit or Wasatch counties and the rest in the Salt Lake Valley, commuting up to an hour each way.
This year, the district is giving all full-time district employees a $1,200 annual stipend for housing and travel, but that doesn't nearly make up the difference, McConnell said. Escalating gasoline prices also have become a factor.
Many teachers have to carpool or take second and third jobs to afford either commuting or the costly housing in the Park City area.
"It's a challenge, but people are certainly willing to make the sacrifice to work up here," said McConnell, who commutes from Salt Lake Valley.
For teachers, living and teaching in the same community is invaluable, McConnell said. Running into parents at community events such as parades or just seeing them at the grocery store really helps establish a working relationship that benefits students, he said.
For Harlan, who started working in the public sector soon after arriving in Utah, having adequate affordable housing in the city is imperative to retaining the area's diversity and community spirit.
Losing the professional support structure to commuting saps the vitality from a community, he said.
"I think it takes government intervention to dictate availability for the whole sector," he said. "Historically, the council has held to that commitment."There are also economic benefits to providing affordable housing, Robinson said. The Park City community is a favorite vacation spot in part because it has authentic and interesting locals, she said.
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