George Pyle: Salt Lakers can afford to be choosy with our development suitors

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A model of the new Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City hotel with will be attached to the Salt Palace Convention Center, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.

There is — there better be — a sweet spot. A tipping point. A place along the continuum of socialist planning to laissez-faire economics where a community has the right and the ability to say, Enough.

Or to say, More.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

Anyone paying any attention to The Salt Lake Tribune over the last several weeks, or just looking around, is aware that a whole lot of people want to live here. Which means a whole lot of money is about to be spent to make room for them. A lot of it is private money, banks and such, building yet another luxury apartment block over here, a ginormous office tower over there and a thousand-acre instant city on yonder.

At the same time, we spending more — though scarcely enough — public money on the growing problem of homelessness and near-homelessness, mostly in Salt Lake City, but increasingly all along the Wasatch.

The powers that be finally realized their dream of demolishing the old Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Monday, making the area safe for gentrification. It has been replaced by three new homeless service centers, scattered about the community so as to avoid a repeat of the very real threat of a magnet for drug sales and other illegal activity.

And, when, as most people who didn’t hold public office had warned all along, those service centers weren’t up to the load, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall commandeered a city-owned vacant building in Sugar House to be the absolutely necessary temporary low-barrier emergency cold-weather homeless shelter.

We live in a broken economy, where the terms “affordable housing” and “market-rate housing” — which, in a functioning system, mean the same thing — are very different. And, of course, the private money is building the latter, leaving the public sector to pick up the need for the former.

Fine. But if the public sector is going to its job, the private sector is going to have to do more — a lot more — to help. Voluntarily would be nice.

But it is within the responsibility — and so should be within the authority — of the public sector to demand that private developers cough up a lot more assistance for the housing of everyone else. Or do the bankers, developers and builders really want the residents of their luxury flats and the workers in their office towers to step over more and more homeless people on the sidewalks in front of their fancy edifices?

A visit to, say, San Francisco would suggest that these master builders truly don’t care. The richer the city, the more desperate its poor.

Salt Lake City should be leading the way in demanding that those who profit from the gentrification of old cities shoulder a lot more of the burden of replacing the affordable housing they are destroying. We should be able to do this because we are obviously a very desirable place to live, work and build. If you have the money.

So rather than settle for every suitor who comes along, on the clearly false premise that if this development is rejected, nobody else will want to build here, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Salt Lake County, etc., should start holding out. You know, like what they teach in abstinence-first sex ed.

You want to build an office tower that scrapes the sky? You want to tear down a block of $900-a-month apartments to build a block of $2,000-a-month flats? Fine. Pay up. Up front. Impact fees. Affordable housing. Taxes or contributions to support new generations of homeless services, dorms, mental health and addiction treatment.

Too pricey for you? Fine. We’ll talk to the guy in line behind you. Enjoy Utah County. (Until they see the light and start doing the same thing.)

There is, of course, a risk that if Salt Lake City and environs get too choosy, too demanding, we will, as they say, kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

But our community already is a golden egg. And it might be more productive to beware the goose that pooped all over your lawn.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, as a young reporter covered a few hundred planning commission meetings where he was told that the kind of housing he lived in was evil.


Twitter, @debatestate