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Poverty summit highlights struggle for affordable housing

Poverty summit highlights struggle for affordable housing

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue | Posted - Oct. 2, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Brandy Glines was leaning forward in her chair, concentrating intently on a panel discussion on affordable housing in Salt Lake City.

The city councilman, the urban planner and the advocate for the low-income all discussed the problem and all said an aggressive housing plan needs to become a key priority for the city.

Her remarks to the panel, when it came time to ask a question, were painfully blunt.

"There really is no such thing as affordable housing in Salt Lake," she told them.

Glines makes $8 an hour taking care of children with disabilities in a group home. She told them 70 percent of her income goes to housing, which is why she has no car. The remaining $300 a month pays for food, a phone, and the other things she needs.

Her situation, and that of countless others in this unforgiving economy, was the focus of the 8th annual People's Summit on Poverty at the Dean's Hall of St. Mark's Episcopal.

The Saturday event, sponsored by the Utah Poverty Partnership, featured informal discussions on critical roadblocks to breaking out of the poverty trap, such as the lure of payday lenders and the struggle to find a decent place to live.

The Crossroads Urban Center's Tim Funk, who has been involved with the program off and on since the late 1960s, said the acknowledgement that the city needs to have a strategic plan in place has been kicking around for decades.

There's more need than what will ever be met, certainly in my lifetime.

–- Tim Funk

"Things really haven't changed in 30 or 40 years."

Just this week, however, the Salt Lake City Council reviewed a draft document of a housing policy that is designed to be a big-picture guide to help put in fixes.

Council member Soren Simonson said the plan has been simmering in City Hall through the administrations of the three mayors, but is likely to gain traction soon, especially if enough people from the community push to make it a priority.

"It may mean showing up at City Council meetings for several months."

What the plan does not include is a provision for inclusionary zoning, which is basically the requirement that a certain percentage of housing stock in a city be deemed "affordable" and meet the needs of the low-income.

Wilf Sommerkorn, the city's director of community and economic development, said he was a little surprised when he first took the job that Salt Lake City lacked such a requirement, especially "given the nature and reputation of the city."

Salt Lake City, too, is poised to consider implementing in certain neighborhoods an allowance for an accessory dwelling, commonly known as a mother-in-law apartment or some other living quarters that can be rented. The room or accommodations would need to have its own separate entrance, in addition to a kitchen.

"The idea of it has been accepted in some neighborhoods but there has been push back in others," Sommerkorn said.

Such a provision is especially important given the changing demographics of the city — older empty- nesters who may be looking to supplement their income or a young couple who may have a spare room to rent.

It is a housing ordinance, he added, that is growing in popularity in other cities across the country.

Funk said policy makers and advocates need to be undeterred in their willingness to tackle the need for affordable housing, which is only going to grow given the state of the economy.

"There's more need than what will ever be met, certainly in my lifetime."

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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