Affordable housing, better air quality are what Salt Lake City residents want leaders to invest in

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Mayor Jackie Biskupski is joined by staff from Salt Lake City's Housing and Neighborhood Development Division and community members Aug. 21, 2018, to review accomplishments of the city's housing plan, GrowingSLC, and to announce two new proposals intended to incentivize the inclusion of affordable housing in multi-income projects and to preserve existing housing stock.

Salt Lake City residents say they enjoy a relatively high quality of life, but they want city leaders to put a high priority on investing in affordable housing and improving air quality.

Most think Utah’s capital city offers job opportunities, but that City Hall could do more to attract businesses. Most feel safe in their neighborhoods during the day, less so at night or when they’re walking downtown.

And in general, according to the latest pulse on city sentiment, residents are not well informed about the Utah inland port being pursued by state and business leaders on the city’s northwest side. What they do know about the project has them divided.

Those and other findings on community attitudes emerge from a new poll, conducted in April and May on the city’s behalf by the research firm Y2 Analytics and presented Tuesday to the Salt Lake City Council.

In addition to using the twice-yearly poll to gauge public mood on key policies and services, the council is on record that the survey results would help drive its decisions on how to spend new tax money raised through the city’s Funding Our Future initiatives.

The survey polled 1,297 residents, both via random phone dialing and sampling based on addresses. Results were then weighted to reflect the known mixes of ages, races, genders and homeowner statuses of the city population — and to ensure equal representation across the city’s seven council districts.

The survey’s findings have a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

On a scale of zero to 100, respondents ranked the overall quality of life in Salt Lake City at 81 on average — a solid "B" grade in standard school grading — and that score has remained relatively consistent in city polling since 2015.

“This is really good,” said Kyrene Gibb, vice president of research and municipal services for Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics, comparing the metric to scores in other Utah cities.

About 72% of those surveyed said the city was “headed in the right direction,” which is down from 81% in 2015 — the year before Mayor Jackie Biskupski took office — but up from 63% in 2018, when the city surveyed only registered voters, not all residents.

Roughly 8% of residents now say they think city services are “excellent,” 52% say they are “good” and 31% rate them as “fair” for the city tax dollars they pay. Nine percent find city services “poor,” the poll found. Services from the Fire Department, Salt Lake City Library and garbage pickup were rated the highest. Homeless services and street maintenance got the lowest scores.

Residents on average ranked investing in affordable housing as their highest policy priority, along with expanding sustainability programs and investing in more mass transit and parks.

But those views on housing are nuanced. While putting a high priority on the city’s affordable-housing investments, slightly more than half of residents said they wanted to increase housing availability. Fewer still — only about 31% — said they put a high priority on Salt Lake City expanding its stocks of high-density housing, such as apartments, duplexes and town homes.

Support for affordable housing was highest among residents in City Council Districts 2, 3 and 4, which span the city’s northeast, southwest and downtown areas, respectively.

Sustainability programs — which focus on conserving city resources and reducing pollution and carbon emissions — drew more backing in Districts 1 and 7, covering the city’s northwest quadrant and its southeastern-most corner. Residents in Districts 5 and 6 — roughly bounded by 900 South and 2100 South starting at Interstate 15 and going up to the city’s eastern foothills — placed their highest priority on more investments in public transportation and parks.

Across all council districts, improving air quality ranked as respondents’ highest environmental concern, followed by reducing greenhouse gases and encouraging water conservation.

About three-quarters of those surveyed said they agreed that Salt Lake City has job opportunities for “people like me,” the poll found. About 52 percent said the city should do more to recruit or attract businesses.

Those results come nearly three years after Biskupski sought to boost the city’s business recruiting efforts by forming a Department of Economic Development when she first took office.

Tellingly, confidence in job opportunities varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. Residents on the city’s east and southeast sides were substantially more likely to believe the city had jobs for them than residents elsewhere, the poll found.

Residents’ sense of safety also varied depending where they lived. Almost all residents citywide felt safe in their neighborhoods during the day and about 80% said they felt safe downtown during daylight hours. But about 40% said they didn’t feel safe downtown at night.

There were wide differences in those views between east-side and west-side residents, with only a third of residents in westerly Districts 1 and 2 saying they felt safe in their neighborhoods at night.

Slightly more than half of residents across most of the city reported seeing the homeless people “frequently” in their neighborhoods, nearly two years after Operation Rio Grande, the 2017 police and social-services program aimed at homeless encampments in the downtown area.

The exceptions to that majority view were in District 6, centered on the city’s east bench, where such sightings were reportedly rare; and downtown-focused District 4, where sightings of the homeless were said to be far more common.

City residents gave the Utah inland port — the controversial logistics and transportation port created by the Utah Legislature in the city’s northwest quadrant — a rating of 42 on a favorability scale going from 0 to 100, the survey found. Those residents more likely to say they knew details of the project were also more likely to view it unfavorably.

But large majorities of residents across the city said they did not understand the project and support for the port ranged from as high as 55% of residents in downtown’s District 4 to as low as 39% in District 1, which spans the port’s 16,000 acres.

Biskupski is currently suing the state of Utah over the port, claiming state lawmakers illegally usurp city authority with its creation two years ago.

Significant numbers of residents said they had no opinion on the port. That aside, a majority of residents said its potential impacts on air quality, wildlife habitat and wetlands were their biggest concerns, followed by accountability and transparency by the governing Inland Port Authority.