Next wave of city policy on tenant displacement and loss of affordable housing may be timid on impact

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Following up on the recommendations of City Hall’s anti-displacement study Thriving in Place, the City Council is about to vote on ordinance changes to create a community benefits policy, ease the hardship of tenant relocation, and establish new rules for housing replacement.

The first wave of post-Thriving in Place changes made a big splash in December, when the the Affordable Housing Incentives ordinance was passed, effectively ending single-family-only zoning in the city.

This next set of breaks? Not likely to make much of a splash on impact. Blocked by pre-emption in Utah code and the state’s political climate, the city’s incentives approach is getting further watered down in the Community Benefit and Tenant Displacement ordinance, currently in front of the council.

The ordinance creates a menu of community benefits, provisions for helping displaced renters with moving costs and rental assistance to find a new home. It also sets terms for the replacement of demolished “naturally occurring” affordable units at a rent-stabilized rate, or the option for developers to pay into a city fund in lieu of providing replacement.  

Yet far from applying to all new development, the conditions are only triggered when an applicant is asking for an upzone or a master plan amendment.

And instead of being requirements, the mitigations are all negotiable. It will be up to the City Council and the applicant to come to a development agreement on the conditions to be met by the applicant in exchange for the zoning or master plan changes.

IMPLEMENTING THRIVING IN PLACE

Scheduled for a public hearing on February 20, the Community Benefit and Tenant Displacement ordinance seems to have been long massaged by the Planning Division, the City’s attorneys, and the City Council. It implements several of Thriving in Place’s recommended actions (p.19).

At the council’s work session on January 16, council members seemed satisfied with the ordinance changes, and mainly had questions regarding enforcement and potential loopholes.

It is likely to see a vote on March 5. It will join other actions taken by the City Council to implement Thriving in Place like expanding ADUs citywide with funding for west siders, activating the city’s Community Land Trust, rewriting RMF-30 to allow a diversity of housing types. and permitting up to four dwellings on single-family zoning through the Affordable Housing Incentives.

DETAILS OF THE NEW ORDINANCE

First, a section of the long-inept Housing Loss Mitigation Ordinance has been deleted (18.97), and housing loss is being addressed in several other parts of the code.

Second, the City is codifying a list of community benefits that can be applied to development agreements when granting an amendment to the zoning code or a general (master) plan.

The language of the ordinance is not “shall require,” but rather: “the city council may require the petitioner to provide…” (19.06.070.D).

The city council may choose from the following menu in negotiating the development agreement with the recipient of the zoning/master plan change:

Community Benefits – petitioner must provide one of the following

•Provide housing in need (e.g. affordable or family-sized)

•Provide publicly-accessible open space

•Conserve or restore critical lands (e.g. wetlands, river corridors)

•Preserve historic buildings not already protected

•Provide space for local business or charitable organizations

•Expand public infrastructure beyond what’s required in code

Tenant relocation funds—petitioner would provide directly to renter

Up to $1500 to help displaced people move, including covering fees incurred at new housing

Rental payment assistance—petitioner would provide directly to renter

Up to $7200 to help tenants pay for increased rent expenses, an amount suggested by federal guidelines

Replacement of demolished affordable units

If a new development (that receives a zoning/master plan change) removes “naturally occurring affordable housing,” it may be responsible for replacing those units at a similar size and rental rate for 20 years. Rent increases would be limited to 3% a year.

Photo by Zeke Peters | Building Salt Lake
Single-family homes on Emeril Ave. in Euclid/Fairpark slated for demolition. None of the anti-displacement measures contained in the ordinance would apply here, since TSA zoning existed before the development applications were submitted.

Upon discussion with developers, city planners added an option for payment in lieu of replacement, planners told the City Council. The amount would account for the amount of time that the NOAH unit was absent during construction of the new project, and multiply those months by the rent lost during that time (e.g. the unit demolished was renting at $1000/mo. and construction took 36 months, developer would owe $36,000 to the city).

Leaders in the Administration told us that payments to the city by developers would routed at the discretion of the City Council. Likely locations are the RDA’s Housing Development Loan Program, the Community Land Trust, “or the Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) program that is in the process of being developed,” wrote Community and Neighborhoods Director Blake Thomas in an email.

WILL IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Does upzoning and subsequent demolition of affordable units cause displacement?

Thriving in Place found that displacement due to new construction is rare. Between 2020 and 2022, analysts calculated that “less than 1% of displacement occurs from a property being rezoned and dwellings subsequently demolished,” in the words of Kristina Gilmore, the author of Planning’s staff report.

Planners and consultants found that most displacement comes from renovation/rehab of existing dwelling units and the increase in rent collection that follows.

Yet, upzone requests for residential development are not uncommon. Ballpark, Euclid, Fairpark, and Central City are seeing a steady stream of upzone applications seeking RMF-30 or TSA designation, two of the city’s most infill-friendly zones. And demolition of NOAH is some areas, like in the North Temple corridor, is common.

Where tenants are displaced in those circumstances, the ordinance may offer some measurable benefit—nearly $9000 in cash out of developers’ pockets—to help them relocate.

Interested parties may participate in the City Council’s public hearing next week (Feb. 20) and submit feedback until its likely vote on March 5.

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.