Mayor announces new housing initiatives to combat housing crisis

Faced with an affordable housing crisis that appears to be worsening despite local efforts, on Tuesday city officials announced they are moving forward with two new initiatives aimed at increasing the city’s affordable housing stock through an expanded fee waiver program for mixed-income developments and mitigating housing losses.

“Salt Lake City is experiencing a systemic housing crisis that has implications for every resident and business,” said Melissa Jensen, director of Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND). “Resolving the crisis will require a community-wide effort.”

Officials made the announcement at the recently completed Liberty Boulevard Apartments.  That project by Cowboy Partners reserved 20 percent of its 267 units for residents earning at or below 50 percent Area Median Income (AMI).

The initiatives are part of the city’s housing plan, GrowingSLC: A Five-Year Housing Plan.  The city council unanimously adopted the plan in December 2017, replacing the 5000 Doors housing initiative established under former Mayor Ralph Becker.  That initiative sought to add 5,000 affordable housing units in the city by 2020.

To increase the city’s housing stock, especially for residents earning at or below 40 percent AMI, the GrowingSLC plan calls for updates to the city’s zoning code, the preservation of long-term affordable housing, the establishment of a significant funding source, stabilizing low-income tenants, innovation in design, collaborative housing partnerships, removing city permit barriers to building more housing, increasing homeownership and encouraging more equitable and fair housing citywide.

According to Jensen, the five-year housing plan outlines strategies for ensuring long-term affordability and preservation that continue to enhance neighborhoods, while balancing their unique needs and building in a way that is sustainable, equitable and meets the challenges of a growing city.

Jensen also noted that since the plan’s adoption, city officials modified the Transit Station Area zoning to increase points for the inclusion of affordable housing, established the Blue Ribbon Commission to identify funding strategies and partnerships, secured a long-term Affordable Housing funding source in the form of a sales tax increase, created an Affordable Housing Community Land Trust, and launched an Affordable Housing Renovation Pilot Program for landlords to improve the quality of affordable rental units.

“We know there is no magic bullet when it comes to promoting and preserving affordable housing,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski.  “But, our goal as a City is to become invested in the development of housing in Salt Lake City—so that we can ensure affordability is included in as many projects as possible.”

Both proposed initiatives will require city council approval but they fit the council’s agenda.  In previous meetings, the council identified encouraging more mixed-income developments and mitigating houses losses as council priorities.

The expanded fee waiver program would waive impact, building permit and plan review fees for developments that reserve at least 20 percent of their units for households making less than $48,000 per year.

The housing mitigation program would require that housing lost in new development, regardless of the housing type or income level, is replaced elsewhere in the city.

“With a 5-year housing plan and the funding from the sales-tax secured, I truly believe the next few years will be a turning point for affordable housing in Salt Lake City,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

To help guide housing policy, officials have launched the Growing SLC Housing in SLC dashboard that will provide housing data including the average cost of rent per neighborhood, average income levels throughout the city, the percentage of renters vs. homeowners, vacancy rates and construction trends.

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.