Blog Post

Insight: Utah’s Seasonal Employee Housing Conundrum

By: Jennifer Leaver

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

Across the West, resort and recreation towns are no strangers to employee housing availability and affordability problems—but are these problems worsening?

As a seasonal employee in Moab in the early ‘90s, it was challenging for me to find summer rentals, but it was possible. During my three tourist seasons in Moab, I rented tiny apartments or private rooms. Never exactly ideal, but definitely doable.

Fast forward to 2021. This summer my son moved to Moab to work as a river guide. He soon learned that rentals for employees are either nonexistent or astronomically expensive. Fortunately, his employer provided staff housing in the form of a storage container equipped with wooden bed platforms and a rooftop swamp cooler. The guides that opted out of storage container life, camped in their cars 20–30 minutes outside of town. When visiting Moab this summer, I learned that some business owners purchase houses for their employees, while some homeowners rent out their driveways to seasonal workers in need of a legal spot to park their campervans.

As Utah travel and tourism increase, so does the leisure and hospitality job demand. Utah’s tourism counties, including Garfield, Grand, Kane, Summit, and Washington, have experienced healthy increases in accommodation and restaurant jobs over the past 10 years. In fact, Summit County has added close to an average of 300 hospitality jobs every year since 2010 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: