New Habitat program partners with local governments to cut for bureaucratic barriers for affordable housing
Summit County has the highest level of income inequality, the least affordable housing market and the highest rents in Utah.
So finds a 2017 report commissioned by the county to enumerate the housing situation and develop goals to help alleviate it.
The County Council has acknowledged the problem and made workforce housing the No. 2 goal in its strategic plan, just behind traffic congestion.
Now a national initiative is aimed at spurring creative solutions to clear obstacles to affordable housing, and it held a kickoff meeting last month with several area stakeholders.
Habitat for Humanity launched its Cost of Home program In June with the goal of “addressing challenging policies and systems” to expand the production of affordable housing, Development Director Melanie Seus wrote in an email.
The June 12 meeting included County Council Chair Roger Armstrong, the county’s Economic Director Jeff Jones, Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, influential local real estate figure Bill Coleman, Summit County planner Jennifer Strader and Habitat staff, among others.
Former Park City planner Alison Kuhlow, who was also present at the meeting and now works on behalf of Habitat, said the purpose of the gathering was to identify who wasn’t in the room to potentially broaden the coalition, and to identify potential barriers to the success of an affordable housing push in the area. She said the effort is a supplement to and “definitely not instead of” Habitat’s traditional model of building affordable housing. It will try to make that process easier by attacking a “different side of the issue.”
She said the five-year project is in its early stages, and pointed to a few areas where those involved could potentially find solutions.
“The process Habitat needs to go through to get approval and pull a permit is daunting,” Kuhlow said. “Any changes to regulations and processes to make it easier to go through that process only helps to facilitate and accelerate (Habitat’s work).”
Maybe it’s lowering impact fees, Kuhlow said, or developing a fast track for affordable housing approvals, or designating a specific zone where affordable housing is promoted that would only require administrative oversight instead of having to go through the entire planning process.
The Council has also sought solutions to tackle the housing problem in the planning process. When new developments seek approval, the Council has imposed requirements about offsetting density with affordable housing. The new Canyons base area, for example, is now required to provide 1,107 “pillows” for employee housing across roughly 219 housing units to be built by the end of 2023.
Armstrong said the developers initially proposed housing for around 360 human beings, and the county was able to more than triple that through negotiations.
Kuhlow pointed to Seattle as a city that has grappled with these issues with some success, especially in integrating affordable housing with transportation infrastructure. That dovetails with the Council’s first strategic goal, alleviating traffic, and Armstrong said that kind of integration is a benefit of the type of self-contained development the county has been pursuing.
“When you look at the Canyons, there’s a transit center on site within walking distance of employee housing and a shuttle that will take the employees to workplaces within Canyons,” Armstrong said. “The developer also agreed to add a grocery store (nearby).”
He said the Council isn’t trying to force developers to do anything they don’t have the ability to do. The Council “tossed it out there,” the idea of the grocery store, and the developer responded that they could make it work. It is designed to benefit lower-income workers, as well as potentially lessening traffic after a day of skiing when people decide to do some grocery shopping rather than wait in an idling vehicle.
In a draft update to the 2017 housing report, the number of affordable housing units needed in the county climbed to 429 annually. That’s for households making up to 120 percent of the annual median income, or about $115,000.
The report found it an “unlikely prospect” that the housing needs for those making less than 30 percent of AMI, around $25,000, would be met on a consistent basis “unless there is extensive and generous support from government and private non-profit entities. Realistically, there is a much greater likelihood of meeting at least some of the affordable rental housing needs of households from 30% AMI to 120% AMI.”
In addition to the 219 units at Canyons that are scheduled to be created by 2023, Jones wrote in an email 64 units are scheduled to begin construction this year in Silver Creek, two of which will be built by Habitat for Humanity. Sues wrote that Habitat has a letter of intent for land for 24 more townhome units in the development, which was planned to include more than 300 units of affordable housing.
The first phase of Utah Olympic Park is under construction now, which will provide 56 units, Discovery Ridge includes 30 deed-restricted units and the Camp Woodward project is required to create eight deed-restricted units, Jones wrote.
The next meeting for Habitat’s Cost of Home program is scheduled for July 10.
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