New SLC Council member for Downtown – just 27 years old – shares her views on housing and transportation

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Downtown Salt Lake City is a purring economic engine whose residents, visitors, businesses, and institutions experience and drive near-constant change. 

It is represented on the City Council by District 4, which also encompasses Central City and the East Central neighborhood bordering the University of Utah. 

It’s the city’s densest, most urbanized, and walkable City Council district. 

After the recent election, it now has a 27-year-old councilwoman, Eva López Chávez.

Eva López speaks during her campaign at Pioneer Park.

Urbanist, advocate for renters, daughter of Mexican immigrants, local political consultant, former city staffer, construction project manager, and aspiring general contractor: López will bring a bundle of vitality to urban issues that Building Salt Lake readers care about.

Let’s look at a summary of a chat we had with Eva this week. She’ll be inaugurated into office on Tuesday January 2, along with three council colleagues and Erin Mendenhall for her second term as mayor.

Housing issues – protection first

López lives in the East Central neighborhood, known in local land-use history as generating more NIMBYs than YIMBYs. We asked her why she used the term “protect” so much in her campaign literature – wondering whether it reflected a conservative view on development.

Her answer evidenced a deep commitment to maintaining existing affordable housing to limit displacement of working-class families from the city. 

Infill and preservation in Central City, District 4. Photo by Luke Garrott.

“When I say I’m for family-friendly housing I mean intergenerational housing–not single-family zoning. I grew up in a room with my grandmother.” 

“Some people define progress as developing our neighborhoods, but that can push out people that I’m interested in protecting.”

In addition, she seeks to enable renters, who make up 84% of District 4’s population according to López, to better advocate for themselves. There is a wall of multiple layers in Utah code that limits cities’ ability to protect renters, and she wants the city to work for renters where opportunities exist.

“I see this need in the city to change how we process renter cases, including code enforcement on negligent landlords and properties. It’s crazy what gets revealed when something like a building fire happens and all these code violations are discovered. The city is years behind in code enforcement. I was there on the front lines” as a member of the Mayor’s Community Action Teams from 2020-23, seeing “how important the city’s enforcement choices are.”

“We’re in a state where you can’t place a moratorium on rent increases. I think the work-around is to empower tenants to advocate for themselves.”

Anti-displacement and renters’ rights lead, but her answer to housing issues is two-fold. She quickly followed up her displacement comments with ideas for a robust pro-housing policy.

Development priorities: Deeply affordable housing with the city as protagonist

When asked whether she supports “social housing” as endorsed by Rocky Anderson in the mayoral campaign, López takes the current progressive tack set by Mayor Mendenhall and the current City Council. 

On her mind is city investment in the form of land ownership in rent-to-own residential projects, like current policy being pursued by City Hall, in addition to adaptive residential reuse of obsolete city buildings. Grand strokes where the city aspires to build large publicly-financed and -owned residential projects, a la “social housing,” isn’t on her list.

“I’m not sure any of my colleagues would call it that [social housing], but how do you get renters to become homeowners? How do we keep people who want to stay in the city, raise a family, and not move to the suburbs?”

“I’m excited about how the RDA, the Perpetual Housing Fund, and Giv group are combating the shortage in housing supply with affordable opportunities for ownership.”

The office to residential conversion at 500 E and 100 S is receiving $10 million from the city to help renters become owners.

In addition, López sees untapped potential in community land trusts. She pointed to successes in Moab and Park City, as well as the need in other tourist destinations like St. George and Kanab to provide workforce housing as examples for Salt Lake to follow.

Those areas “all face similar struggle with housing; what does that look like for us, what are they doing that we are not?”

Pro market-rate housing?

Still, would she support upzoning in areas that the city is currently allowing? 

“Some of my neighbors talk about moving out of the city because of all of the changes. I’m not satisfied with that because they don’t understand that they’re going to miss out on the benefits of density.”

Added to her focus on mitigating displacement, Lopez speaks as if she understands what makes cities work: density and diversity. 

When asked whether she supports the proposed upzones around the Ballpark TRAX station and at Station Center in the Depot District, her default response is “Yes.”

“I think they will be of long-term benefit to the city,” she asserts.

What about the sanctioned tent campground at Station Center? “I’m excited for the success of the current Depot District community, but not sure it belongs in that RDA area.”

Transportation issues

We asked about traffic calming in neighborhoods, I-15 expansion, the Green Loop, and the Rio Grande Plan. 

It was a “lightning round.” Yes or No answers, with short addenda only. Eva López, would you support the following, knowing what you know today? Y/N

Rio Grande Plan: “Yes, Choo Choo, absolutely.”

Green Loop: close it to cars? “Yes yes yes, I can’t wait to walk it with my dog.”

I-15: should the city sue for concessions? “Yes, I’d advocate for that. ”

More traffic calming in neighborhoods, like the “Livable Streets” program? “Yes: I’m so excited that more and more neighbors of mine are interested in creating safe environments [that include streets].”

Building Salt Lake readers, meet the present and future of Downtown, Eva López Chávez.

Email Luke Garrott

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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.