The next piece of the puzzle for Salt Lake City’s affordable housing is where to put it

03 April, 2024

Salt Lake City announced a record $17.7 million in funding in March for 14 affordable housing projects throughout the city. The conversation now turns to where it gets built.

If history is any indication, those conversations won’t be smooth sailing.

According to a city affordable housing dashboard, there are almost 1,400 affordable units under construction. The highest concentrations are near the University of Utah and the Liberty Wells neighborhood.

During last year’s discussions over whether the city should change residential zoning, city officials heard concerns ranging from building costs to “poorly dressed neighborhoods that don't fit.” Other common arguments center around preserving neighborhood character or density.

Housing advocates say those arguments miss the mark.

“Low income people do not damage a neighborhood,” said Turner Bitton, chair of the Glendale Community Council and founder of the nonprofit SLC Neighbors for More Neighbors.

“A neighborhood is best when it is income diverse, and when people who are looking for opportunity can live in the neighborhood that aligns with the opportunity they're seeking.”

Salt Lake City isn’t the only Utah municipality struggling with this issue. One project in Park City broke ground last October after years of negotiations and concerns over its location.

During last year’s rollout of the FY 2025 state budget, Gov. Spencer Cox said “every single one of us needs to be involved in making [affordable housing] happen.”

“This is a different kind of density,” he said. “I hope that there will be a little less NIMBYism around these neighborhoods where they are starter homes for our kids and grandkids.”

For Bitton and other advocates, those conversations are absolutely worth the temporary discomfort.

“We should want the nurse who works at the University of Utah to be able to ride his or her bike, to be able to walk to work, to be able to live in a neighborhood close to their job.”

Not only can living close to a workplace cut down on commute time and lower pollution, Britton said, but it could also provide additional economic benefits to those employees and their employers by way of more easily picking up an extra shift or spending less on transportation.

Many of those same sentiments are also shared by decision makers at City Hall.

“The city wants mixed income neighborhoods and to have affordable housing and amenity rich areas,” said community and neighborhoods director Blake Thomas.

Since coming to work for the city, Thomas said much of his work has been focused on implementing policies that help make our city more equitable and help undo the historical wrongs of redlining and other racist policies that have led to some of those disparities in land costs and value.”

The tricky part now, he said, is figuring out how to best leverage the city’s resources because “in general, we can't regulate where affordable housing is built.”

Moving forward, Thomas’ department will be looking closely at how to make more parts of the city “amenity rich.”

“Whether that be high quality education, a grocery store, a job center, you can get there by means of active transportation or public transit, all within a 15 minute walk or transit shed of where you live.”

This piece originally appeared on the KUER website. Click here to read the original article.