Partly out of desperation, Utah’s search for new ways to alleviate the housing crisis is venturing into sensitive political territory.
The plethora of ideas heading into the next session of the Utah Legislature in January to alleviate the affordability crisis outline steps that state legislatures didn’t consider just a few years ago.
The preliminary list, approved this week by the state Affordable Housing Commission, includes harsh new penalties for cities that lack state-mandated master plans to encourage the construction of more moderately priced housing in their communities.
Among them: withholding vital state funds for streets and road improvements, known as Class B and C funds, and allowing private landowners to build affordable homes on their lots, bypassing zoning reviews and city hearings will.
“It’s more of a blunt weapon,” said commissioner Chris Gamvroulas, president of Ivory Development, the development arm of Ivory Homes, Utah’s largest homebuilder.
Gamvroulas anticipated opposition to some of the ideas at that session, saying, “The harder they say no, the more likely it is that there will be an outcome.”
Lawmakers are also considering a ban on municipal zoning changes that could restrict new housing construction, known as downzoning, and steps are underway to limit some public contributions to controversial developments.
Several legislators also want to link state offers for tax incentives for new employers more closely with requirements that they participate in the planning and development of new apartments for their employees.
The commission’s first budget proposal includes a requirement to nearly triple this year’s spending of $55 million on ultra-affordable housing and temporary shelters for the vulnerable and raise the requirement to $150 million.
Commissioners tasked with advising the legislature on housing policy were themselves divided on Tuesday over many of the proposals and how they might be incorporated into prospective legislation by some senior lawmakers.
“I’m a bit scared,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, “about giving authority to just a handful of individuals to write something that we’ve worked on in the past to come close to a consensus.” .”
The 2023 legislature begins on January 17, and it remains unclear whether the Commission will publicly announce its final proposals before then.
Utah’s cities are responding to the real estate crisis
Recent efforts to remove housing barriers come at a time when Utah residents are grappling with the effects of growth like never before, according to a 2021 survey. Regional planning agency Envision Utah has surveyed statewide sentiment toward growth four times in the past 25 years, said Ryan Beck, its vice president for planning.
“This is the first time Utahns have said growth is bad and should be limited,” Beck said. “That’s bloody worrying.”
Local residents worry about traffic, congestion, security and loss of open space, he said. “The community feels more crowded, less peaceful, more crowded schools.”
The state also faces a deep divide in the views of rural residents and those living along the Wasatch Front, Beck said. “This is significant and absolutely something we need to focus on.”
In recent years, state legislatures have passed a series of measures to gradually tighten requirements for Utah cities to develop sound plans for new housing and, in some cases, plan for higher density around transit lines.
City leaders are responding, according to Utah League of Cities and Towns President Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini.
“Cities and communities in this state are poised in terms of working with the private development community and the legislature to solve our housing crisis,” Silvestrini said. “And we’ve already made significant progress.”
But city leaders recognize that “we have a problem in our state in relation to the fact that decisions are driven too much by public outcry,” the Millcreek mayor said. Public contributions “are extremely valuable to the development process — and we don’t want to rule that out — but there comes a point where after a while that’s no longer helpful.”
Silvestrini said the league will propose a way to streamline the approval process for new subdivisions “and limit this public contribution to one meeting.”
But city officials strongly oppose the commission’s idea of allowing development “by rights,” he said. “We see this as extremely problematic in terms of our ability to plan infrastructure,” such as water, sewerage, roads and other city services.
“It’s our responsibility,” Silvestrini said, “to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
More “skin in the game” from employers
Cameron Diehl, the league’s executive director, noted that few Utah cities have failed to meet state requirements for moderate housing plans. And cities are approving new housing at a record-breaking pace, Diehl said, with the state’s 40 fastest-growing municipalities having approved more than 93,000 new housing units now awaiting planning permission.
“What solutions can help meet the need to build these units over the next few years?” asked Diehl.
The commission is also urging a change in the way tax incentives are offered by the state governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity to attract jobs to Utah. This entails a certain setback from state economic development agencies.
“Is it really a place for the companies that come here to think about how affordable housing is going to be planned where they can say no to that?” asked Kyle Palmer, director of the Unified Opportunity Commission at GOEO.
Companies that receive state tax breaks for job creation “don’t relocate people from out of state and send them in,” Palmer said. “It’s not necessarily a new strain on the housing supply. Many of these are jobs intended for Utahans already living here.”
Others noted that Utah cities and state officials have different requirements for employers to contribute infrastructure related to new facilities they build.
“Housing is essential infrastructure,” said David Damschen, a former state treasurer who now heads the nonprofit Utah Housing Corp. “It has become a significant impediment to sustained economic growth. It’s serious. I hope we can all agree that asking employers to put some skin on it is fair.”
https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/11/15/utah-may-pull-out-blunt-weapons/ Utah’s quest for affordable housing could end up in political potholes