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'Affordable housing' irks Lehi neighbors
Pilgrim's Landing folks want no Mayflower

LEHI -- Most shoppers are eager to buy when the word "affordable" precedes a big purchase -- unless of course affordable comes before the word "housing." Then their attitude may change.

Such is the case with Pilgrim's Landing, a new housing development in Lehi. When the project is complete, it will be the home of single-family dwellings costing more than $200,000, as well as multiple-family, affordable housing units, starting at $527 a month.Pilgrim's Landing plans will make for an economically diverse neighborhood. But not everyone is excited about that prospect.

Clark Charras seriously considered purchasing a townhouse in Pilgrim's Landing, until he learned about Mayflower Harbor, a 192-unit affordable housing complex.

"I didn't want to make a purchase where there would be a cluster of low-income housing," Charras said. "It's a situation where I didn't want to make a purchase and then find out later my property value went down," he said.

Charras has since moved to Sandy.

After working in law enforcement in Chicago, Clive Winn is also concerned about the high-density housing.

"In Chicago, affordable housing has become a very unattractive area with gang activity," he said.

Instead of apartments, he'd like to see larger lots and single-family units next door, "a zone that would complement" Thanksgiving Point.

"When you try to spend time to build things of beauty then you're concerned about what goes in next to you," Winn said.

Winn recognizes Lehi's need for affordable housing, but believes there are better locations than right off of I-15.

"You want your entrance to your city to be attractive," Winn said. "We expect millions of people to come to Thanksgiving Point (after the Dinosaur Museum is completed). If their first view is high density housing, it becomes less attractive."

Those worries are far-fetched, says master developer Paul Taggart. Mayflower Harbor is affordable, but not low-income housing, he says. Rent is not subsidized, but made affordable through a tax exempt bond, which lowered the initial finance costs of the project and therefore allows PSC Development Co. to keep the rent down.

"When people think about affordable housing, they think about little Tiajuana. They couldn't be farther from the truth," Taggart said. "We have very strict rules. We do background checks on renters."

Taggart said PSC representatives visit prospective renters' homes to make sure they are well-maintained. Mayflower Harbor rents to those who make 60 percent or less of Utah County's median income. As the median income rises, so will the rent.

Utah County's current median income is $44,900 a year, according to Julie Fagan, Housing and Urban Development state coordinator.

In 1996 a state law passed requiring each city to have an affordable housing plan by 1998. Now, in 1999, some cities still drag their feet.

Highland officials, for example, are discussing, somewhat unwillingly, possibilities of including affordable housing in their town center plans. In a joint City Council and Planning Commission public hearing held June 15, council members argued that there wasn't an urgency for affordable housing in their city because of the affordable housing opportunities in nearby Lehi and American Fork.

But economic variety within a neighborhood is an unavoidable trend in the housing market, says Amy Parkinson, a certified residential appraiser in Provo. She said as the amount of available land decreases, more affluent communities find multiple-housing complexes next door.

If apartment complexes near single-family houses are well-maintained, Parkinson said homeowners will see minimal changes in their property values. However, she did acknowledge the axiom of the affordable housing stereotype.

"When you have a small investment, you tend to not take as good of care of it as would have a large investment," Parkinson said. But, "if (the complex) is going to be well run, it's probably not going to be a problem."

If the fears that property values will decrease near affordable housing complexes are unfounded, is it possible that some residents are just being a little snooty? Taggart thinks so.

"There's still a lot of cities with this holier than thou attitude," he said. "If some of these cities don't start getting with it, Governor Leavitt is going to make them."

He challenges anyone doubting the aesthetic quality of Mayflower Harbor to take a look for themselves.

City Administrator Ed Collins said Lehi was not originally aware of Pilgrim's Landing's plans to achieve affordable housing status, nevertheless, he approves of the project, which he says fills a vital city need.

Collins says he lives in a neighborhood that was once considered tract housing. He welcomes people of varying financial capabilities to Lehi.

"I don't know that your character is connected with your income," Collins said. "Not everybody can afford to live in $250,000 homes."