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Does S.L. need suburban development?

Salt Lake City is not a suburb therefore, with regard to housing, it shouldn't try to act like one.

So pronounced City Council Chairwoman Deeda Seed Thursday while reviewing, with her fellows, a draft of a new city housing policy.Consultant Karen Wikstrom, whose firm researched and wrote the draft plan, recommends using the northwest area of the city to develop new single-family homes. The area could sustain 21,000 homes and "has great potential."

"We all want the American dream" of house, garage, lawn and dog, she said.

Seed, however, disagreed.

"We don't need suburban development in Salt Lake City," she said. "That's going entirely in the wrong direction. . . . Even suburbs are thinking about what it means to be a suburb."

The solution, according to Seed and most other council members, is mixed housing - apartments mixed with single-family homes, low income mixed with high and middle income, subsidized housing mixed with non-subsidized housing.

City residents who participated in a workshop to develop the plan partially defined a healthy, balanced community like this: "The neighborhood is mixed use in its most complete sense, including a mix of residential and commercial uses, a mix of housing sizes and types, a mix of renters and owners and a mix of socioeconomic groups."

In other words, Salt Lake City is urban, and government should recognize and take advantage of that fact. Even Wikstrom's report states that "Salt Lake City is the only truly urban environment in the state that can offer the cultural climate of a major regional center - which is a remarkable advantage and a tremendous market niche."

Things have changed much since the current housing policy was implemented in 1990. Vacancies have dropped sharply, prices have skyrocketed, wages have not kept pace, and affordability has become a major problem.

Average home prices have risen 11.3 percent in the city and 9.2 percent in the county every year since 1990. Homes in the city now average $160,000, with homes in the county averaging $150,000 - the first year city prices have outpaced county prices.

Based on income alone, 48 percent of current Salt Lake homeowners couldn't afford to buy a home in today's market.

With regard to subsidized housing, 44 percent of households in Salt Lake City are not traditional (mom, dad, children), and the city houses more elderly and low-income residents than do surrounding communities.

"We have a need much greater than we're currently providing," Wikstrom said.

Making matters worse, 37 percent of the city's 3,466 assisted housing units are due to have affordability restrictions removed by the year 2002.

"We're not treading water - we're backpedaling," Wikstrom said.

To increase funding, Wikstrom recommends conducting a major capital campaign to build up an endowment fund in addition to existing funding sources.

Salt Lake City spent $8.2 million on housing in 1995-96, almost half on helping residents get into homes. A change in that ratio - subsidizing more rental units - would help get more bang for the buck, Wikstrom said.

Apartments are cheaper than homes, meaning the money would go farther.

The current ratio of owned to rented housing units in Salt Lake City is almost even: 49 percent rented, 51 percent owned. However, that ratio will rise to 60/40 in the next few years under current zoning policies.

Though crime was not technically part of the housing plan, surveyed residents repeatedly iden-ti-fied it as a major factor affecting where they want to live. Having the area well-kept-up was a related concern, and thus the report recommends rehabilitation of the Central City, Poplar Grove and west Salt Lake neighborhoods.

The final version of the new plan, which has been in the works for several months, will cover the years from 1998 to 2002. After various city agencies have reviewed the draft policy and public comment is received, the City Council plans to revisit it, probably sometime in December.

An open house on the plan will be held on the fourth floor of the City-County Building on Oct. 20, 4-7 p.m., with a public hearing tentatively scheduled for Nov. 20.

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Additional Information

Apartment rent rates

Salt Lake City

June 1997-Average

One Two Two or more

Studio Bedroom Bedroom Bedroom

Salt Lake City $379.08 $469.06 $592.18 $776.67

Salt Lake County $380.88 $458.41 $579.92 $750.29

Source: Wickstrom Economic & Planning Consultants Inc., Reliable Rentals