SALT LAKE CITY — With Utah's capital city poised to pass its first long-term housing plan in more than a decade Tuesday — with a heavy focus on increasing affordable housing — Salt Lake City leaders are urging other cities to follow their example.
"In Salt Lake City, we can't build all of the affordable housing in the Wasatch Front," City Councilman Charlie Luke said Monday. "That's just economically impossible, and frankly it would not be good for Salt Lake City or any city."
Luke, Councilwoman Lisa Adams and Council Chairman Stan Penfold acknowledged the general public is not generally receptive to high-density developments or affordable housing projects. But that's a perception they hope to set an example about, to demonstrate that projects can be done well and not only integrate into a neighborhood, but also lift the neighborhood.
"We're not talking about building the '60s-era housing projects — that's not what we're looking at," Luke said in a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday. "We want to find things that are going to fit with the community."
Last week, the City Council acting as the Redevelopment Agency allocated $17.6 million of the $21 million it set aside last year for affordable housing to specific initiatives and projects to increase the city's affordable housing stock.
The $17.6 million includes putting $10 million in a fund for developers building projects that meet the city's housing goals and $4.5 million for projects in "high opportunity neighborhoods" — or neighborhoods with a higher quality of life.
The allocation also includes $3 million to the city's Housing Trust Fund to improve existing affordable housing; $1.4 million in financing for a development at the old Barnes Bank building, 431 S. 300 East, which is expected to bring 196 affordable units out of 412 total; and $3.2 million to redevelop the Capitol Motel, 1749 S. State, for a project with 60 affordable units out of 150 total.
In October, the City Council also voted to spend $4 million of last year's $21 million set aside on the blighted Overniter Motel, 1500 W. North Temple, to put the property out to bid for developers experienced with affordable housing developments — requiring no more than 50 percent of the development's units to be affordable housing as to not create a project that wouldn't integrate well with the community, Luke said.
Biskupski has touted the plan with "bold but equitable" changes to city policy and procedures with objectives meant to alleviate Salt Lake City's affordable housing shortage.
It aims to accomplish three main goals over the next five years: Reform city practices to promote a responsive, affordable, high-opportunity housing market; increase housing opportunities and stabilization for cost-burdened households; and create more equitable and fair housing.
The plan also outlines a shift in how the city will approach housing development and modify how the city regulates and incentivizes the housing market across zoning, permitting and financing.
Penfold said the housing plan "doesn't implement anything," but it "sets the groundwork for things to try," including partnering with developers, providing financing to drop costs for some affordable units, and exploring different types of zoning tools that might incentivize affordability.
"There's still a lot of work to do in that regard," he acknowledged, but he added if other cities look at housing with the same type of focus on affordable housing, the Wasatch Front might have a more stable future.
"Other governments do need to step up. We cannot take care of everybody's affordable housing needs," Luke said, acknowledging it may have to take some "political capital" by city leaders.
Nationally, housing costs are escalating far faster than incomes, Penfold said. "So I don't think South Jordan or Sandy are going to be insulated from the reality of affordability impacts they're going to face."
Luke added, "There is no good answer," noting that other cities can't be forced to play a role. But he said if communities don't start planning ahead, the national housing crisis will eventually impact bedroom communities.
"You'll see people leaving those communities," he said. "Their kids won't be able to live there. They're not going to be able to stay if they lose their job — which creates a lot of instability in families if you're having to move constantly."
That's why Adams said she hopes Salt Lake City can set an example and show that affordable housing projects — with the right mix of affordable units and even some commercial uses — can be done well.
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