Affordable housing ‘crisis’ declared in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY -- The rent is too high and there's not enough places available.

Those are some of the problems prompting the Salt Lake City Council to declare an affordable housing "crisis." At a briefing on Tuesday, council members were warned that as bad as it is now, it will only get worse.

"We feel like it is at crisis level," Councilwoman Lisa Adams said. "We feel like it is also a big piece of dealing with our homeless issues."

According to a five-year plan presented to the council, more than half of city residents already pay more than 30% of their income toward housing. Incomes have risen slowly in the city, but rents have gone up faster. It's a seller's market for home sales and there's not a lot of vacancies (the report placed it at 2%).

All of that combines to create a problem that affects the middle and low income in Salt Lake City. If it continues, they get pushed out of the city.

"Are we really in crisis mode or are we just tasting it right now and the main course is still to come?" Councilman Derek Kitchen asked during Tuesday's briefing.

"We will see things continue to worsen," replied Melissa Jensen, the director of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Services Division.

Jensen and other city officials were briefing the council on goals to make housing more affordable in the city. Potential changes could include zoning, new ordinances (or repealing prohibitive ones), and investment or incentives for new housing.

Salt Lake City has been sitting on $21 million for affordable housing needs, with Mayor Jackie Biskupski planning to propose an additional $3 million in her budget.

Advocates for the poor applauded the city for recognizing the problem, but said they need to act faster.

"We need to act more quickly than we’ve been moving so far, would be my opinion," said Steve Erickson with Crossroads Urban Center. "I’m hopeful that the city council can get some real initiatives on the table for discussion this year."