5-year Salt Lake initiative seeks 5,000 units of affordable housing

5-year Salt Lake initiative seeks 5,000 units of affordable housing


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SALT LAKE CITY — Who needs affordable housing?

Everyone, says Michael Akerlow, Salt Lake City's director of Housing and Neighborhood Development.

But supply is not meeting demand and more than half of renters in Salt Lake City are spending more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes on housing costs. The same holds true for a third of city residents paying a mortgage.

Yet 25 percent of renters spend more than half of their monthly paychecks on rent. That means they have far less money for basic needs such as food, transportation and health care.

People who are particularly hard hit by these trends range from extremely low-income, those with annual incomes of $10,000 or less, to moderate income families supported by professionals such as social workers, chefs and educators whose household incomes range from $41,000 to $55,000 a year.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has launched an initiative that aims to add and preserve 5,000 units of affordable housing in the city over the next five years to help close the 8,200-unit gap of need and available units identified in a 2013 housing study.

We want to ensure Salt Lake City is a place where everyone can have an affordable place to live.

–Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City mayor

Half of the 5,000 units are targeted to extremely low-income renter households, which include seniors, people with disabilities and people who live on fixed incomes such as Social Security.

"We want to ensure Salt Lake City is a place where everyone can have an affordable place to live,” Becker said this week in announcing the launch of the 5000 Doors initiative.

Akerlow said people who need affordable housing also include young married couples, recent college graduates and people who work more than one job but earn low wages.

Meeting the goal of building and preserving 5,000 units of affordable housing will require incentives such as tax credits and low-interest loans, he said.

But it will also require an educational process to better inform the public about the increased need for affordable housing, strategies developers use to develop affordable housing units and developing a greater awareness about the wide array of people who need affordable housing, Akerlow said.

People who are able to spend the recommended 25 to 30 percent of their income on housing generally live in safety and have comforts they need.

"Too many people are going home and don’t have that security. They’re paying too much or they may not have housing at all, so they’re living with other people or they’re living at the shelter. It’s about these folks. It’s about having a healthy and safe place to live and still being able to provide for the other needs you have in your life," Akerlow said.

The initiative is backed by community partners that include advocates, financial institutions, housing developers, community development organizations and others, he said.

City administrators will next ask the Salt Lake City Council to develop policies that further support the initiative. Some communities require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable units in housing projects they develop.

Cowboy Partners recently completed a 171-unit apartment complex in Sugar House, which includes 35 units "we helped fund at the city," Akerlow said. The apartments are available to families that earn less than $34,000 annually or individuals who earn less than $24,000 a year.

The developer, Dan Lofgren, "made it work. He knows how to mix those incomes," he said.

Other private developers such as Artspace, Wasatch Group and Giv Development have built developments that have a mix of market rate and affordable housing units.

"One of the critical components of this is the funding. There are low-income housing tax credits, the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund at the state, the city has a housing trust fund and CRAs (community reinvestment required of financial institutions). We have to be more creative. We have to come up with more solutions," Akerlow said.

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Marjorie Cortez


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