Salt Lake City unveiled two initiatives Tuesday aimed at spurring more construction of affordable housing.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski said she would asked the City Council to expand fee waivers for developers seeking to build mixed-income residential projects — if they set aside at least 20 percent of dwellings for low- to moderate-income tenants.
Biskupski also wants to strengthen city policy aimed at preserving existing affordable housing by requiring that dwellings be replaced when they are demolished, removed or converted to other uses.
“Our goal as a city,” the mayor said, “is to become invested in the development of housing so that we can ensure that affordability is included in as many projects as possible.”
So far, Biskupski said, the city’s multipronged approach is paying off. In an interview, the mayor said the city expected to add at least 2,000 new units by the end of 2019.
“I’m stoked,” she said. “The affordable numbers will continue to grow.”
Her announcement comes as housing advocates are calling for stepped-up government action to widen access to affordable homes as rising housing prices and rents in Utah continue to squeeze out some residents and contribute to homelessness.
Some have labeled current housing market conditions “a crisis.” Recent research estimates that Utah has a housing gap of at least 43,500 dwellings and that as many as 100,000 households are paying 50 percent or more of their income on housing costs.
“You can talk to anyone today and they will have a story of their struggle,” said Melissa Jensen, director of the city’s housing and neighborhood development programs.
In Biskupski’s presentation Tuesday on the rooftop of Liberty Blvd Apartments, a new complex at 400 South and 700 East, she and other officials praised the city’s recent devotion of a stream of sales tax money to boosting affordable housing.
With that “ongoing and stable funding source” and Growing SLC, the city’s housing policy blueprint, Biskupski predicted that “the next few steps and many years to come will be a turning point for affordable housing in Salt Lake City.”
In an earlier interview, Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall called the recent spending “the most money any city in the state has committed to affordable housing. And it’s supported by the master plan and ordinance work that has come along at the same time to give that money structure.”
Liberty Blvd is a 266-unit apartment project completed earlier this year, with 54 units rent-subsidized and set aside for those earning below median wages. Park City native Conner Prescott said he and girlfriend Hannah Peterson were unable to locate a rental in Salt Lake City that matched their modest budget, until they heard about Liberty Blvd.
“We’re a young couple, starting out in our careers, so it was really hard to find something that we could afford,” Prescott said. The new living arrangement let them stay in the city, he said, “and helps us develop our education and our careers. This way we have a little bit of money to spend on other things.”
Developer Dan Lofgren with Cowboy Partners, the Utah-based developer that built Liberty Blvd, said the project benefited from recent zoning changes along TRAX lines, including 400 South and North Temple. Among other steps, the transit zoning created incentives for building affordable housing by giving developers expedited city approval and fee discounts of project plans as long as they follow certain design standards and include affordable units.
Lofgren called Biskupski’s new proposal for expanding affordable-housing waivers on impact fees and other city charges “very real.”
“Affordable housing is hard,” Lofgren said. “It requires resources. And what the mayor’s just announced puts more resources into the mix.”
Jensen, with the city housing department, also praised the city’s creation of a community land trust to keep some homes affordable in perpetuity, as well as a new renovation program to subsidize repairs on aging rental housing to keep it in use.
“There’s no one single solution but a myriad,” Jensen said, “and the city is deeply, deeply committed to this issue of finding the best solutions.”