Housing Affordability

Take-aways:

  • Diversify housing stock

  • Grow with grace

  • Prioritize ADUs, etc, within at-risk communities

  • [regulatory and incentive framework]

  • Lower the costs of building

  • Increase longevity of housing units

  • Increase rates of occupancy

  • Slow demand

  • Increase real wages

  • Invest in a housing safety net

The rising cost of housing is on everyone’s mind these days. It’s no wonder. Housing is the single largest expense for most households. Which is why housing affordability is central to so many of the issues we care about: the cost of living, aging in place, the health and vitality of our neighborhoods, social justice, homelessness, to name a few.

How do we make housing more affordable—for ourselves, our neighbors, and the next generation?

The answer is multi-faceted… we need to increase housing supply, lower the cost of building, increase longevity of units, increase rates of occupancy, slow demand… and we have to increase real wages and invest in a safety net for those who still can’t afford a place to live.

So what does that look like, on the ground?

First, a little math

Salt Lake City has some 85,000 units housing our 200,000 or so residents. Over the next 20–30 years, it’s expected that Salt Lake City will double in population and we’ll need to add 85,000 units (give or take), just to keep up; 100,000 to get ahead of the curve.

Increase housing Supply

Housing supply is listed first because it is literally our most important hurdle. We could achieve all our other housing goals, but without increased supply affordable housing won’t be possible.

But here’s a secret: we don’t need to turn our city into something unrecognizable to double the supply of housing. Single family homes and monster apartment complexes aren’t the only tools available to us. ADUs, co-housing, duplexes and triplexes, commercial conversions (think warehouses converted into apartments or condos), and over-retail housing (think a small apartment above a hair salon) can get us a long way to our goal.

To get there, we need to remove hurdles that have kept such housing types off the market and we need to meter roll-out of new housing to give neighborhoods the chance to grow with grace. We also need to work with all the stakeholders, we can craft a regulatory and incentive framework that will help us get to where we’re going faster.

A word about ADUs… accessory dwelling units are a low-impact way to increase housing supply across the city but they’re also a proven way to help homeowners stretch their budgets, age in place, and fend off displacement. Sadly, our most vulnerable homeowners are also the least likely to undertake an ADU conversion. Working with our community partners, Salt Lake City needs to develop programs that prioritize and facilitate ADUs and similar conversions among our at-risk communities.

lower cost of building

While nothing about housing affordability is simple, it probably goes without saying that a building that costs more to construct will cost more to buy or lease or rent. And while Salt Lake City isn’t in a good position to affect the price of steel or concrete, there are some costs where Salt Lake City and our partners can move the needle…

Parking: Parking stalls cost about $30,000 to build. One stall per unit? You’ve just added thirty grand to the price tag right of the gate. Two stalls? You’ve added sixty… That’s why cities around the world are experimenting with removing parking minimums—those requirements that tell developers how many stalls they must provide in a building—or even replacing them with parking maximums.

Mobility independence, shared parking facilities, improved street parking, and other factors each contribute to the success of such programs. That’s why a comprehensive parking masterplan—which inventories parking needs and mitigating factors and then outlines ways to best meet the community’s parking needs—is a priority.

Skilled Labor: We currently face a shortage of skilled labor—sheet rockers, plumbers, electricians, finishers, and the like—and that drives up the price of construction. By increasing the number of enrollees in area trades programs—high school graduates, experienced contractors wanting to get specialized training, and folk from other industries looking to change course—and increasing the percentage who graduate, we’ll be creating a generation of workers with needed skills and lowering the cost of housing.

Getting to Market: The time it takes from a project to start until it’s available for sale/lease/rent plays a big role in the final cost of a building. When delays are part of a larger pattern, they also discourage development. Salt Lake City needs to work with developers, architects, contractors, regulators, lenders, and community groups to reduce delays to market while maintaining our community values. It’s possible, when we partner for success.

[Be bolder: form-based code.]

Neighborhood Amenities: Salt Lake City, in partnership with the County and with various business and community partners, needs to identify critical amenities—parks, grocers, laundry, pools, and the like—and then ensure that every neighborhood and every neighbor has such amenities in within reach, allowing developers more flexibility in constructing housing for our growing population.

increase longevity—Lose?

So suddenly we have all the housing units we need and they didn’t cost more than necessary to build… but maintenance and replacement costs can quickly turn an affordable housing unit into a money pit.

Build to last: Longevity hasn’t been a part of the housing equation like it’s been part of the automotive equation… but what if it could be? We all know which cars last the longest and cost the least to maintain because there are folks who track this sort of information and publish it widely. The first steps in making this a reality is working with experts to develop a longevity metric for housing, inventorying our housing stock to see how we’re doing, and then publishing our findings to allow the market to begin its work of self correction.

This is a long-term project, but its success will help developers, investors, insurers, and consumers to design, build, fund, and demand better quality—less expensive—housing.

Quality maintenance: Even the best homes need regular maintenance. In fact, good maintenance can extend the lifespan of nearly any home. That’s why it’s crucial to not only have a wealth of skilled tradespeople (see above), but we need skilled property managers to make it all happen. Salt Lake City can help by improving standards for property managers and by creating resources for home owners and home owner associations to help them get the most from their properties. And, finally, we can review and improve current maintenance support programs for low-income homeowners—expanding the lifespan of the homes that currently house some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Alternative text:

Much of the most affordable housing in Salt Lake City is located in homes built in the early 20th Century. They were created with durable materials and designed for ease of long-term maintenance. While these homes were market priced when they were built, they were long ago paid off and maintenance costs have been easily born by successive owners. By reprioritizing construction that’s built to last, we build a legacy of housing affordability for generations to come.

increase occupancy—Lose?

It doesn’t do us a lick of good to have enough housing if it’s not being put to good use. Of course, there are lots of good reasons for a basement apartment to go unrented or for a house to remain empty… but our success at housing our residents depends on most apartments and homes being occupied.

Rental Support: Salt Lake City needs to work with its business and community partners to expand the Good Landlord Program—including drafting a meaningful renter bill of rights. In fact, a central purpose of the reworked program should be making it easier—less scary, less expensive, less daunting—to be a good landlord, especially for folks who just want to rent out their basement apartment.

The AirBNB Question: Among folks that are concerned about housing affordability, there’s a real concern about short-term rentals (AirBNB and its competitors) and about secondary residences. Both short-term rentals and secondary residences remove limited housing resources from the housing market and so put upward pressure on housing prices—how much pressure, though, is still a matter of debate. Salt Lake City needs to understand how much of regional housing is dedicated to none-housing uses and it needs to understand the driving forces behind the phenomenon. With that data in hand, it can craft an occupancy policy that balances housing affordability and the concerns of property owners.

[Owner-occupied AirBNB okay…]

increase real wages

No discussion about housing affordability is complete without a discussion of living wages—which is why Salt Lake City needs to champion a living wage at the regional or—better yet—state level.

safety net

It’s a little confusing, but when most politicians are talking about “affordable housing”, they’re mostly talking about subsidized housing. Housing options for low-income residents are an essential part of any city’s housing toolkit, and will continue to be a priority for my administration.

Crossover Initiatives

Because my vision for Salt Lake City is wholistic, it shouldn’t be surprising that other parts of my platform will impact housing affordability:

Regional Rail: Connecting Salt Lake City to every corner of the state will improve housing affordability by: expanding the area where folks working along the Wasatch Front can live and improving and diversifying rural economies, reducing the need to move to Utah’s urban core.

Home Rule State Constitutional Amendment: [blurb]

Public Bank: [blurb]

Mobility Independence: [blurb]