The Salt Lake City Council deserves credit for a job well done this past year. Specifically, its forward-looking focus regarding police and affordable housing will help usher Salt Lake into a new year of measured growth and public safety. With the growth in the homeless population and the scattering caused by Operation Rio Grande, the council’s consistently steady response deserves credit.
At a recent meeting, the council took an administrative request for 27 new police and instead doubled the number to 50. Operation Rio Grande is driving the need, as well as an influx of daytime city workers and a return to a neighborhood policing model. Will the council need to find the money from somewhere? Yes. And that probably means new taxes for city residents. But the city is growing, and taxes are inevitable.
The council has also spent time and resources on developing adequate affordable housing plans, including supporting incentives for new construction of more than 850 affordable housing units.
A recent kerfuffle developed between the council, acting as the city’s Redevelopment Agency board, and the mayor’s RDA staff when the council refused to approve a $4 million loan to raze a dilapidated downtown motel. The city’s RDA office had recruited the Western Region Nonprofit Housing Corporation. But that developer had never completed a similar project, didn’t have financing in place and couldn’t assure the council its plan was the most cost efficient.
So the council opted instead to buy the property and offer the development out for competitive bidding. It is comforting to know the City Council sees itself as more than just a rubber stamp.
Appropriately, most important to the council is that the city stay away from large single-use buildings that resemble the old, crime-ridden “projects” in large cities across the nation. That’s why it has preferred mixed-use, mixed-income developments, led out by private investment. The goal is to increase the number of units across the spectrum of affordability, and transparency and process are critical.
The city has less than two years before the state’s largest homeless shelter closes and the city’s system is reduced by 400 beds. Additionally, the city is expecting 30,000 more people by 2030.
The council knows it will not have 400 new affordable housing units ready by 2019. But its refusal to scramble and approve inferior projects will likely create longer-lasting community improvements with affordable housing integrated into individual neighborhoods with adequate support services and transit.
The council is right to focus on the long term, bigger picture.