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Hive Mind: How Much Affordable Housing Is Enough?


In the Hive Mind, listeners ask questions about different topics and KUER reporters try to answer them. This week you asked-how much affordable housing is acceptable and who decides it?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development considers affordable housing to be units that cost families no more than 30 percent of their income. That’s figured by looking at the median income of a particular community.

For someone who’s making $15,000-$20,000 a year, that’s about $500 a month. Right now, Salt Lake City is 7500 units short for its neediest populations.

Here’s Melissa Jensen, Director of Salt Lake City Housing and Neighborhood Development.  

... if we could have 20 or 30 percent of units that come on line be affordable, that would be a really great accomplishment. — Melissa Jensen, head of Salt Lake City Housing and Neighborhood Development.

“When we talk about affordable housing, we often talk to if, gosh if we could have 20 or 30 percent of units that come on line be affordable, that would be a really great accomplishment,” Jensen says.

This question is on the minds of Utah lawmakers who are trying to coax cities to help with homelessness and the affordable housing shortage. State Representative Steve Eliason is proposing a bill to tax cities that don’t have enough affordable housing. The money would help run Salt Lake County’s three new shelters.

Should his bill pass, the Department of Workforce Services would decide how cities are measuring up in their housing stock.

“We look at the incomes of people in a city and look at the comparable price of housing based on those incomes and then for low-income housing we look at the number of units compared to the size of the city,” he says.

Credit Whittney Evans
In Kearns, Utah, low-income housing builders Habitat for Humanity are building whole neighborhoods of energy efficient homes to help ease the affordable housing crisis.

And, he says not every city is going to just start building affordable units.

“My own hometown, Sandy, they’ve built a lot of multi-family [housing], but based on demand, the price is still very high,” he says. “A city can still allow that to be developed and still play a key role in helping with the homeless problem.”

Eliason’s bill isn’t out yet, but it might be the only way to get some cities in Utah to start thinking about affordable housing at all.

Stay tuned for part three of this Hive Mind series: Are any of the big apartment complexes sprouting up in Salt Lake City affordable?

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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