City considering vacant city-owned land to add more affordable housing

Salt Lake City officials eye developing surplus city land as one strategy to help curb the city’s affordable housing crisis and increase the city’s housing stock.  Officials estimate that as many as 128 city-owned properties on 67 acres are available for development, potentially adding up to 1,240 new residential units in the city.

On Tuesday, November 13, staff from the city’s office of Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) updated the Salt Lake City Council on proposed revisions to the city’s Surplus Real Property code and on a council-requested inventory of city-owned developable land.

Tuesday’s work session was the second formal discussion between HAND officials and the city council.  Continued discussions will take place before the council formally adopts any revisions to the Surplus Real Property code.

As currently proposed, the revised code includes a clear framework for utilizing city-owned properties to incentivize affordable housing development, aligns surplus land policies with current housing needs, creates and maintains a property inventory and allows a portion of funds from the sale of city-owned properties to go to the Salt Lake City Housing Trust Fund.

“The intent is not to make every single parcel that is being disposed of go toward affordable housing, it doesn’t make sense in a lot of places,” said HAND Director, Melissa Jensen.

Council members agreed with Jensen that some city-owned parcels could be better utilized as open space or other uses depending on specific neighborhood needs.

Even if not every parcel will be developed with affordable housing, HAND officials note that revenue from land sales could also go toward expanding the city’s affordable housing stock by requiring that a portion of land sales revenue goes to the Housing Trust Fund.

In the past four years, the city has generated over $2.7 million through the sale of 25 properties.  Officials estimate that if 20 percent of that revenue was required to go to the Housing Trust Fund, the city would have an additional $555,000 to spend on affordable housing projects.

The exploration of using the city’s surplus land to address the housing crisis began after the Mayor’s office requested several language changes to city’s Surplus Real Property code to help the city better implement the housing goals in the recently-adopted Growing SLC Housing Plan.

In addition to using city-owned land to expand the city’s housing stock, the Growing SLC Housing Plan calls for updated zoning regulations that encourage more missing middle housing and infill development in lower-density residential neighborhoods.

City officials have made building more affordable housing and increasing the city’s housing stock a top legislative priority.  Last month the council adopted a revised Accessory Dwelling Units ordinance that will allow for smaller accessory residential units, often referred to as mother-in-law apartments, throughout the city.

The city has also set aside $21 million to fund new affordable housing projects and the continued maintenance of existing affordable housing.

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