City agrees on the need, but still finalizing its approach to affordable housing

An estimated 45.3 percent of Salt Lake City renters were cost-burdened in 2016 according to a new report by Apartment List.  Nationally, 37 percent of renters were cost-burdened last year, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

Not only are Salt lake renters more likely to be cost-burdened, but according to Apartment List, 21 percent are severely cost-burdened spending more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing.

It is this type of data that appears to be driving the sense of urgency in city hall to increase access to affordable housing as city leaders explore several different solutions to the housing crisis.

“We’ve never seen the level of commitment to affordable housing that we currently see across all city organizations,” said Councilmember Charlie Luke.

On Tuesday nearly every city leader was on hand as Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the heads of the Redevelopment Agency, Housing and Neighborhood Development and Economic Development briefed City Council members, serving as the Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors, on the draft RDA Housing Funding Strategy that will establish the guidelines and strategy in deploying $21 million committed to increasing the city’s affordable housing stock.

Under the current draft strategy, the Biskupski administration presented the council with two distinctly different tactics to utilize the committed funds.  Tactic one would use the funds to incentivize developers to include an affordable housing component into planned market-rate developments.

Tactic two calls for the acquisition and development of five properties identified as potential sites for affordable housing developments.

An hour later, the mayor and the heads of HAND briefed the city council on the status of the draft Growing Salt Lake plan, the city’s proposed five-year housing plan.

Salt Lake’s current housing situation is the result of historically low vacancy rates and incomes that aren’t keeping up with rising housing costs.  According to the Apartment List report, between 2005 and 2016 rents in Salt Lake City grew by 22.6 percent while incomes grew by just 18.5 percent.

While both the draft housing plan and RDA funding strategy have the same goal, to increase the affordable housing stock, their means to that goal are distinctly different.  The housing plan is more market driven by adjusting the city’s zoning to allow developers to build more diverse housing types across the city.  Although the council has requested language be added that emphasizes adding more missing middle housing and incorporating Accessory Dwelling Units.

The RDA funding strategy focuses more on what the city can control, specifically on using city funds to directly address the housing crisis, through either a rental incentive program or through the buying up of properties and then selected a developer after going through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

“We are digging in our heels and we are going to make sure that we having a serious impact on affordable housing in Salt Lake City,” said Councilmember James Rogers.

City leaders appear split on how to best redevelop the properties identified in the RDA Housing Funding Strategy.  Both the City Council and the Mayor’s teams agree that something must be done to increase the housing stock, but based on the past few public meetings, the mayor’s office appears more comfortable with delegating to the private sector to redevelop the selected sites, while council members are unified in their view that the city should be more directly involved over the redevelopment of key properties.

“We have set this money aside.  It is a lot of money,” said Luke. ” If one of these doesn’t go well it has the serious potential of hurting another project moving forward.”

Last month the councilmembers acting as the RDA board of directors voted to purchase the Overnighter Motel at 1500 West and North Temple instead of turning the property over to a developer as the mayor’s team had requested.  The city has finalized the purchase and will soon issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the development community.

City councilmembers cited the failed State Street Plaza project as an example of the potential consequence for relinquishing too much oversight to the private sector.

Councilmembers have yet to formally adopt the draft housing plan and the housing funding strategy.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.