Strategic Goal #3: Inventory and Utilize Public Lands for More Housing

03 June, 2023


A lack of affordable and family-sized housing affects individuals and families throughout Salt Lake City, and has resulted in skyrocketing rents and homelessness rates across the metro. As Utah's population grows and its urban areas like Salt Lake City grow rapidly, the need to address this issue will only grow more pressing. A key means of relieving the affordable housing shortage in Salt Lake City is to inventory and allocate public land to build additional housing. Here is what we're proposing: 

  • Salt Lake City, and its sub-entities, and the Salt Lake City School District create inventories of publicly owned lands. 
  • The inventory is used to create a citywide strategy for creating deed restricted affordable and family-sized housing. 
  • Both entities leverage their position as landowners to create affordable housing citywide that is designed to meet specific needs.

Below, we’ll discuss the many benefits of utilizing public lands, both for Salt Lake City residents and for our community as a whole:

Meeting the Needs of Vulnerable Populations

A significant advantage of utilizing public land for housing is that parcels of land owned by the city can be repurposed into developments specially designed to meet the needs of those who need it most. Cities can hire developers to build mixed-income, mixed-use developments that include affordable units. Some developments might place a stronger emphasis on senior housing, while others may focus on accommodations for those with disabilities, on recovery from homelessness, or simply on providing starter homes for young and working class families just beginning their journey of upward mobility. Moreover, market-rate units and small businesses existing alongside fixed-rate housing on the same developments can raise revenue for the city to construct further developments of the same kind. 

Preserving and Enhancing Community Identity

Whereas the incentive for profit that characterizes private land-ownership can result in privately lucrative but jarringly out-of-place developments that ignore the needs of surrounding communities, housing built on public land can be cultivated by the city to fit neatly into existing neighborhoods, better promoting community, diversity, and social cohesion.

Maximizing Land Value and Resources

Unused or underutilized public land allotments, which often cover vast acres, constitute literal economic holes in communities. By converting such land into housing, neighborhoods can derive the benefits of rental income and increased local revenues (not to mention job creation during these developments’ construction phase). To allocate underused public spaces for housing is to optimize– and make more efficient use of– the land resources that currently lie dormant in plain sight. 

Long-Term Affordability and Sustainability

Allocating public land for housing ensures the long-term affordability, maintenance, and sustainability of the units developed on these spacious plots. By retaining ownership or placing land under long-term lease agreements, communities can maintain control over affordability measures, preventing the displacement of residents due to rising rents or property values. Housing can be designed to incorporate energy-efficient technologies and sustainable practices aimed at reducing pollution.

Leveraging Partnerships and Resources

Public-private partnerships and collaboration with nonprofit organizations plays a crucial role in developing housing on public land. Communities can leverage these partnerships to access additional resources, expertise, and funding to build more houses. 

The inventory and allocation of public land for new housing is a viable and effective solution to the ongoing housing crisis faced by communities citywide. Public land is a valuable asset and a powerful foundation for thriving neighborhoods with safe and sustainable homes that are attainable for all.