City to reveal its anti-displacement strategy this week at Planning Commission

Even as they continue to author pro-growth legislation, both the Mendenhall Administration and the City Council have expressed unease about the rise in rents that has pushed across Salt Lake City from east to west.

As what used to be ‘Downtown rates’ spread to central city and the west side, the swell of unaffordability hits an ever larger number of economically vulnerable people.

Leaders are hoping to see strategies to keep residents from having to leave the city due to rising housing costs. The City Council stalled ordinances addressing infill, off-street parking requirements, and shared housing for two years, holding out for assurances from the Administration that a hot housing market wouldn’t wipe out the city’s store of naturally occurring affordable housing and displace hundreds if not thousands of people.

The anti-displacement consultants hired to survey the situation and recommend policies will present to the Planning Commission this week, finishing the Berkeley-based group’s scope of work. 

With Planning Commission approval, the policies will be sent to the City Council for adoption as part of the city’s Housing Plan update next year. How much of a shift will they be?

What are the strategies looking like?

In previous iterations of their work, consultants have suggested significant regulatory reforms. Many of those the city has made or are in process, like ADU proliferation, reduced parking requirements, and missing-middle infill ordinance fixes.

That leaves several other sets of actions that may appeal to city leaders. One involves renters, specifically helping tenant organization, empowerment and rights. The other set seeks to expand affordable housing options like community-owned social service housing and shared-ownership models seeking to turn renters into owners. The priorities are at the bottom of this page.

Angela Price, Policy Director of the Department of Community and Neighborhoods, in charge of the anti-displacement initiative, introduced the consultant’s prescriptions in a November 9 memo to the Planning Commission. 

She described the presentation as “a suite of strategies intended to cumulatively mitigate displacement, including policies related to protecting tenants, preserving existing affordable housing, producing more housing (especially affordable housing), expanding funding, creating and strengthening partnerships and collaboration, and advocating for tenants at the state level.”

What’s the housing vibe on the west side?

Insecurity, in a word. 

As a part of a graduate-level Plan Making course last school year, a survey conducted by Professors Alessandro Rigolon and Ivis Garcia working with the city’s consultants found “a broad and deep concern at the current lack of housing options that are affordable to households that aren’t considered ‘high-income’.”

Yet solving the problem isn’t as simple as building as much affordable housing as possible. In fact, the resistance on the west side to affordable projects, especially if 100% of their units are subsidized, is usually intense. 

District 1 and 2 city council members have stood up, but usually lost to city-sponsored proposals to build affordable housing in their neighborhoods. The latest episode was the Other Side Village in District 2. Council 2 representative Alejandro Puy was heavily pummeled by constituents enraged by the city’s siting the 40-acre mini-home recovery community at 1850 W Indiana Ave. 

Also on people’s minds seems to be cultural loss.

At a well-attended event at Mestizo Coffeehouse this month, Professor Caitlin Cahill’s Community Engagement and Planning students inaugurated Neighborworks Salt Lake’s new program called Westside Tesoros (Treasures). Giving exposure to people’s favorite places in their neighborhood, the “placekeeping” map marks treasured sites that can become part of strategies of cultural preservation. 

Professor Caitlin Cahill (right center) is interviewed by a reporter (in mask) at the Westside Tesoros event at Mestizo Coffeehouse. Photo by Luke Garrott.

YIMBY group forms

While opposition to infill housing development continues to raise its ugly head up and down the city’s east side, a new non-profit organization announced its launch in October. SLC Neighbors for More Neighbors advocates for “an inclusive Salt Lake City that welcomes more neighbors by providing abundant housing for every person who wants to live in Salt Lake City.”

Based in Glendale, the group “will work for housing that is affordable for all income levels through policies that are pro-housing and pro-tenant.” In a press release it listed support of the series of regulatory reforms then on the city’s council voting agenda – RMF-30, parking requirements, ADUs, shared housing, and the Other Side Village. 

All have passed, with the exception of ADUs. Seemingly set to approve all ADUs by right (instead of as a conditional use), the biggest question likely facing the City Council is whether to maintain the current owner-occupancy requirement.

Meanwhile, the city’s Redevelopment Agency is designing a program to help homeowners in the new 9-Line project area finance ADUs on their property.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.