City Council moving closer to final decision on big expansion of shared housing

Salt Lake City could see a return of dorm-style housing with shared living space among renters from different families in more neighborhoods around the city under a change that’s up for final comment this week.

The updated ordinance would effectively rebrand what has been known as single-room occupancy housing. Units with certain shared amenities would be called shared housing if the council approves the changes this month.

The changes would more than triple the amount of land on which buildings could be retrofitted or new shared housing could be built, largely by including commercial areas in Downtown, Poplar Grove, Glendale and Ballpark to the list of permitted areas where shared housing could be located.

It’s one of several approaches the city is taking to try to generate more affordable housing. But while it’s been proposed as a way to generate more workforce and student housing, the city still wouldn’t allow shared housing in the areas adjacent to its largest employer and source of student housing need: the University of Utah.

The proposed ordinance wouldn’t expand the areas that permit shared housing into several wealthy areas that are zoned primarily for single-family housing, despite a state goal and a need for mixed-income housing citywide.

Once a somewhat common form of affordable housing throughout the city and nation, there are very few examples of shared housing in the city today.

Shared housing units under the updated ordinance would be a minimum of 100 square feet per unit, house tenants on a weekly or monthly basis and include a shared bathroom or shared kitchen (but not both).

Shared housing has been promoted as a way to add more options to the housing stock to help prevent people from becoming homeless or to help people pull themselves out of homelessness. But city officials have recently focused on other residents that could benefit from the housing with shared amenities that logically would be less expensive to build, own, maintain or rent.

“A lot of effort or comment has been made that if the ordinance were adopted it would be a good tool to use to help people who do not have housing now,” said Russell Weeks, a public policy analyst for the City Council. “But again one of the major goals of this proposed ordinance is to provide workforce and student housing that’s also affordable for young men and women who want to work and go to school.”

District 6, including the East Bench and area around the U., is filled with single-family zoning which doesn’t permit single-room occupancy units and wouldn’t allow it under the proposed changes.

Every other area in the city would increase the acreage on which shared housing could be built, sometimes substantially.

Downtown and District 2, which includes Poplar Grove and Glendale, would have the most land that would permit shared housing, followed by portions of District 5.

And while the changes would bring geographical parity when comparing the portions of the city east and west of Interstate 15, not every neighborhood would allow shared housing, which is viewed as a source of possible crime.

The greater Sugar House neighborhood currently prohibits single-room occupancy housing. It would allow shared housing on 143 acres of land under the proposed ordinance change.

While city officials acknowledged the lack of citywide equity, they preferred moving forward with the change to quickly add more areas that allow potentially low-income housing without facing a fight with wealthier neighborhoods.

The East Bench has a history of not attracting or welcoming affordable housing. Not a single unit of low-income housing has been built in the district since 2016, while thousands of such units have been added elsewhere in the city in that time.

Passing the proposed change would continue the trend.

That’s largely because shared housing wouldn’t be allowed in single-family zoned neighborhoods.

District 5 would see the biggest proportionate increase of land where shared housing could be built under the change, but nearly all that expansion would happen in the districts western portion, which includes Ballpark.

District 2 would allow shared housing largely along Redwood Road and 2100 South. Downtown would allow it in most areas.

The city has said it could round back in the future and look at expanding into the neighborhoods that will continue prohibiting shared housing at an unspecified point in time.

It doesn’t expect a big rush to build shared housing, but will track progress.

Tuesday’s city council meeting is the last time residents can comment on the changes before a likely council vote.

Read the latest staff report here.

District 1 (Rose Park, Fairpark)

SROs would be clustered primarily around North Temple from 900 West to 2200 West.

District 2 (Glendale, Poplar Grove)

SROs would be allowed on north/south corridors along I-15, Redwood Road and 5600 West, as well as along 2100 South.

District 3 (Avenues, Capitol Hill and Marmalade)

Sections of the Marmalade neighborhood west of 300 West would allow SROs, while all of Capitol Hill and all but one parcel of land in the Avenues wouldn’t offer the permission.

District 4 (Downtown SLC)

Much of the city’s urban core would allow the development of SROs.

District 5 (Liberty Wells, Central 9th, Ballpark, 9th and 9th)

SROs would be available largely west of State Street. The 9th and 9th neighborhood, which is largely zoned Commercial Business, wouldn’t allow SROs. Several notorious motels along State and Main streets could be converted to SROs, as has already happened on a temporary basis at the Capitol Motel.

District 6 (East Bench, Yalecrest)

SROs wouldn’t be permitted in this East Bench district.

District 7 (Sugar House)

Sugar House would allow SROs primarily running east/west along 2100 South, as well as on either side of Highland Drive between 2100 South and I-80.

Nov. 9, 2020: This post has been updated to reflect that there is more than one example of shared housing in Salt Lake City today.

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.