Taymour Semnani: I’ll work to make Salt Lake City a place where our children can own, not just rent

Housing, homelessness and policing. Those are the three most critical challenges our city faces today.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A home for sale in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Even with housing demand in Utah at historic highs, home sales along the Wasatch Front dropped earlier this year for a lack of supply. Prices, meanwhile, keep climbing for single-family homes as razor-thin supplies dampen sales and buyers go for more affordable alternatives such as condominiums and town homes.

I was born at Salt Lake Regional Hospital to immigrant parents. Five years before, my parents lost everything to a terrorist regime that eventually took American consulate staff hostage in what is known today as “Iran Hostage Crisis.”

My parents were without a country and penniless. Westminster College gave my father work as a janitor, eventually giving him a scholarship that he turned into a degree. My mother found work as a salesperson at ZCMI. As a result of their hard work perseverance, but most importantly, the opportunities and assistance Utah gave them to demonstrate their work ethic, my parents achieved citizenship. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, my wife, a CVICU nurse, and I, a civil litigator, raise a family with two kids (and counting) in the heart of Wasatch Hollow, with a massive dog that barks like he’s trying to trigger the Wasatch Fault, but has the heart of a kitten. Life is pretty darn good if you’re our dog and kids, but my wife and I aren’t at peace.

We watch our city become increasingly unaffordable, with progressively fewer opportunities for young families to build equity in entry level housing. We are closing public schools because families are leaving. Homelessness, addiction and mental health disease are metastasizing, and our city fails to provide viable avenues to existing state and county resources.

Our police department is a shell of its once-remarkable self, still recovering from an exodus of officers resulting, in part, from budget increases that consistently lagged behind, and still haven’t caught up to, general budget increases.

We are home to some of the world’s most consequential institutions, such as our state’s capital and namesake University, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our children’s hospital ranked best nationwide for patient outcomes, the highest acuity hospital system in the western region and our Delta hub. Our municipal government is not meeting the standard set by the sum of these institutions.

Housing, homelessness and policing. Those are the three most critical challenges our city faces today.

Our City Council reduces chronic homelessness to a lack of housing. Housing is a triage, but an addict with an apartment is still an addict. People suffering addiction and mental health disease need treatment, a social support system and patience to have any chance to reintegrate into society. My wife and I had two addicts live with us in their recovery. We know firsthand that housing is just the start. Our city needs to get serious about increasing utilization of drug courts and providing wrap-around services.

As our City Council undertakes solving the housing crisis, proposed policies aimed at increasing diversity, affordability and inclusivity — like Thriving in Place and the Affordable Housing Incentive package — will have the inverse effect and only push more people out.

My opponent and the City Council have pursued those same policies that remove protections for our neighborhoods, and it seems to me that developers are figuring out that single family homes make great neighborhoods and are cheaper to build. When we convert single family homes to duplexes and fourplexes, the result is an increase in the cost of the remaining single-family homes on the market, with a negligible impact upon rental supply.

Alternatively, developers have proven they can efficiently add significant inventory, bringing 15,000 units on line in the valley since 2000 without hurting the inventory of, and equity in, single family homes. The City Council should take the lead encouraging density where density is appropriate.

Simply put, density belongs downtown. Vacant lots downtown, old warehouses in the Granary, the dilapidated Fleet Block and opportunities for revitalization along North Temple are prime opportunities for our city to build literally thousands of units for mixed incomes. These communities have the infrastructure — parking, public transportation, mixed development, et cetera — that will thrive under the added density.

The numbers don’t lie. Filling single family neighborhoods with fourplexes doesn’t move the needle in rental supply and ravages ownership supply by having developers compete with single family homebuyers, a competition families will lose every time.

No matter what the incumbent tells you, our City Council is aggressively moving towards undermining single family neighborhoods, and he lacked the courage and skill set to advocate for our neighborhoods and address the underlying causes of homelessness. His change in tune at the 11th hour directly conflicts his voting record, sounding more like a campaign salvage operation than genuinely held beliefs.

I’m asking for your vote because I am the only clear, consistent voice who will always put our neighborhoods first and continue to make Salt Lake a place where our children can own, not just rent.

Taymour Semnani

Taymour Semnani is a civil litigator, husband and father. He is running to represent Salt Lake City Council District 6.