SLC neighborhood townhall raises questions over Affordable Housing Incentives proposal

Jun 10, 2022, 10:13 AM | Updated: 2:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday night, concerns arose at a community townhall in a Salt Lake City neighborhood over an affordable housing incentives proposal, that some worry is deeply flawed.

The neighborhood council that sponsored the town hall said they favor affordable housing, and they want to get to a ‘yes’ on a plan but residents wondered if the proposal in its current state would do what it intends.

Walking around Yalecrest, one might notice the quaint tree-lined streets and historic architecture.

Some of the homes are nearing a century in age.

“The majority of Yalecrest are English cottages,” Pershing explained. “They’re not very big, but they’re beautiful. They have architectural elements you just don’t get in a new house today.”

Pershing is president of the nonprofit Keep Educating and Encouraging Preservation (K.E.E.P.) Yalecrest, which she said helps people set up local historic districts in Yalecrest and works on community projects like repairing the vintage streetlamps.

She loves living in Yalecrest.

“I was just charmed by this neighborhood,” she said.

But she fears that charm could change with the Salt Lake City Affordable Housing Incentives proposal, which would amend zoning requirements to incentivize developers to include affordable housing units in their projects.

“My biggest concern is the ability to go anywhere and tear down a viable, single-family house,” Pershing expressed. “I don’t think we should be tearing down any houses in our city at this point. It’s especially damaging to historic districts.”

She worries the proposal would not just allow developers to buy a property and tear down a historic home, but that it would also allow them to build “anything they want without a design review.”

Additionally, she shared doubts that the proposal focuses enough on affordable housing, because it allows half or more of the units to be listed at full market price.

“They could call it multi-family housing incentives, but to call it affordable is really a misnomer,” she said.

Everything Pershing touched upon, became the focus of a townhall sponsored by both K.E.E.P. Yalecrest and the Yalecrest Neighborhood Council Thursday evening.

The townhall featured five speakers, including Pershing, as well as a Q and A panel.

Topics covered by the speakers included architecture, law, historic preservation, housing, and real estate.

Questions included impacts of the proposal on roads and infrastructure, enforceability of the plan, and its effectiveness.

“The most important question that practically no one is asking, will this make a difference?” asked Janet Hemming, chair of the Yalecrest Neighborhood Council, to the crowd of dozens. “Do the people that we care about—and we do—low-income people who need housing, will this help them?”

While not a city-run event, Salt Lake City Planning Director Nick Norris attended the townhall and listened from the audience.

“We are listening to what people’s concerns are, and we want to make changes to improve the proposal,” he said.

One example he gave from what he heard, included potential issues with enforcement of the proposal. He described how they share the concern of making sure the city has a way to enforce that the affordable units stay affordable, years and decades down the line.

Norris said the proposal does include design standards such as building heights, so that units would fit in with the neighborhood.

But as far as Thursday’s townhall, Norris said it’s an opportunity to learn from the community. The Planning Commission held a hearing in May, Norris said, and they’re still going through the comments from that meeting.

They plan to continue those hearings in the future.

“What we hope is that we can have constructive dialogue in that process,” he said. “So that we’re all working toward a common goal of improving the housing options in our city, in the most appropriate way that we can.”

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SLC neighborhood townhall raises questions over Affordable Housing Incentives proposal