Advocates urge that new SLC sports and entertainment district include lots of affordable housing

Crossroads Urban Center says ‘it’s only fair’ for mayor, City Council to insist that up to 20% of any new homes in the district be rent-subsidized.

(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) The nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City is urging city officials to demand "community benefits" — including affordable housing — in exchange for zoning changes sought to create a new sports and entertainment district downtown.

Advocates for unsheltered Utahns are urging Salt Lake City to require that deeply affordable homes be included in emerging plans for a new sports and entertainment district downtown.

In an open letter Friday to Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the City Council, the head of Crossroads Urban Center said any zoning changes proposed to allow added density and taller buildings for the new district should also set aside up to 20% of any resulting housing for those at lower incomes.

“Salt Lake City residents will be giving so much to help foster this development,” wrote Glen Bailey, the center’s executive director.

The nonprofit is among Utah’s leading advocates on deeply affordable housing and issues affecting unsheltered residents.

“If all taxpayers, including struggling renters, will be helping to finance the creation of this district,” Bailey wrote, “then it is only fair to demand that some of the housing in it is affordable.”

The center’s plea came days before the public’s first dedicated opportunity to voice opinions directly to the council regarding a proposal by Smith Entertainment Group to pump billions into creating the district on blocks near the Delta Center. The group, which owns the Utah Jazz and a newly acquired National Hockey League franchise, has said it would invest at least $3 billion of its own money into the project.

Plans to create a sports, entertainment, culture, and convention district also involve authorizing new half-a-percentage-point sales tax increase in the city to contribute to the endeavor, subject to the council’s approval in a vote now tentatively scheduled for July. Smith Entertainment Group has said it could collect up to $900 million from the additional revenue to help pay for the project.

The City Council has scheduled that first public hearing for its formal meeting Tuesday night.

In its two-page letter posted on social media, Crossroads Urban Center pointed to the ongoing development of the former Utah State Prison site in Draper as a model. The Utah Legislature has required that 12.5% of an initial phase of 3,300 new housing units being built on that state-owned site near Interstate 15 be kept affordable to those making between 60% and 80% of area’s median incomes.

The center also invoked a recently adopted city policy on requiring that community benefits, including housing affordability, be part of any review of zoning changes sought by property owners, saying the council faced “the first major test” of that new policy.

Proposals from Smith Entertainment Group have included lifting the city’s current 125-foot cap on building heights in much of the downtown to 375 feet.

That additional height, said Bailey, also means potential extra floors on apartment complexes that could yield thousands of additional new housing units. In exchange for lifting those height caps, Bailey said, the city should insist that up to 10% of any new housing units be kept affordable to households earning $30,000 a year.

Another 10% of all new dwellings, Bailey added, should be even more deeply subsidized “so that people working at the part-time, low-wage leisure and hospitality jobs in the district can afford to live there.”

“It’s long past time to quit giving our city away to developers without expecting a tangible benefit to our community,” his letter continued, “especially low- and moderate-income residents struggling to get by each month.”

Requiring more housing with this proposal, Bailey added, would also set a vital precedent “that community benefits and inclusion matter” in advance of future discussions on Salt Lake City hosting the Winter Olympics or a new Major League Baseball stadium.