Council wants more collaboration in addressing city’s housing crisis

Key housing and demographic data for Salt Lake City residents. Image courtesy the Growing SLC draft plan.

Despite unprecedented growth in Salt Lake City’s multifamily market, demand for housing still surpasses the supply.  The growing stress on the housing market is increasing the City Council’s sense of urgency as the council dedicated most of Tuesday’s work session and Board of Directors Redevelopment Agency (RDA) meeting to explore ways for the city to increase its housing stock and collaborate better between agencies.

“We need to be working here as though we are in the crisis that we claim to be in,” said Councilmember Erin Mendenhall.  “Our needs are so much greater than placemaking at this point.  It’s not the RDA’s job to solve the housing crisis. Yet we have money here that we are trying to start to do that with.”

On Tuesday representatives from the RDA, Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) and the mayor’s office briefed the Salt Lake City Council on their respective agency’s plans to address the affordable housing crisis.

While affordable housing isn’t usually under the jurisdiction of the RDA, the council acting as the Board of Directors has allocated $21 million to go toward building more affordable housing citywide.  Last year the council reallocated the $17 million from other RDA projects as a response to a perceived lack of action from Mayor Jackie Biskupski in addressing the housing crisis.

“I’m seeing a challenge that it feels like we have three different entities looking at housing… but I’m not convinced that they are all coordinating that effort very well,” said Stan Penfold.  “I want to make sure that we are having a conversation about the best way to use RDA funds.”

In response to Penfold and Mendenhall’s requests for more collaboration and urgency, David Litvack, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, argued that the administration feels the urgency and is working to align housing policies under the Growing SLC draft housing plan to the address affordable housing crisis.  One key strategy proposed in the draft plan is to rezone significant portions of the city to allow for an increased housing density.

Traditionally, affordable housing is under the jurisdiction of HAND.  That agency is currently overseeing the development of the Barnes Bank and Northwest Pipeline sites and is working with the planning department to finalize the housing plan for council adoption.

Shortly before Tuesday’s RDA meeting, Councilmembers Lisa Adams and Derek Kitchen, the RDA chair and vice chair respectively, made a $4 million bid for the former State Street Plaza site.

The State Street Plaza, on the 200 south block of State Street, was an RDA project that stalled mid-construction after the developer La Porte ran into financial and engineering issues.  The project was to be 10-stories with 180 units, 136 of which would have been income restricted.

Now that the property is expected to again be under RDA ownership, the agency will again seek out a developer to partner with in developing the site with affordable housing.  Cowboy Partners had previously expressed interest in taking over the project and had worked with the RDA to get the bank to relinquish ownership.

Cowboy Partners had previously expressed interest in taking over the project and had worked with the RDA to get the bank to relinquish ownership.

Meanwhile, rents in Salt Lake are among the fastest rising in the country.  A recent report from RentCafe, an online rental market, shows that even with the historic amount of multifamily units under construction, the Salt Lake metro is not building enough apartments.

The report’s authors estimate that by the year’s end, the metro area will have added 3,821 multifamily unit’s to the market.  Of those 3,821 almost half will come from Salt Lake City proper with Sandy and Draper contributing another 1,200 units.  Including projects that are expected to be completed in 2018, Salt Lake will add nearly 3,500 units.

Yet the multifamily market countywide is at 96.2 percent occupancy.  The rate is estimated to be around to 97 percent occupancy in the city proper.

In comparison to the largest 101 metro areas, the Salt Lake metro is 29th in estimated 2016 population growth at 1.6 percent but the metro is 12th in job growth at 3.2 percent.  The strong job growth is attracting a growing number of new residents to the state. The Salt Lake Metro is the 48th largest by population but it comes in at 29th for new multifamily units added in 2017.

City officials estimate that the city needs to add nearly 7,500 affordable housing units to meet the city’s current housing demands.  Building Salt Lake estimates that there are around 6,300 multifamily housing units either proposed or under construction, the majority of which will be market rate 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