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Opinion: Don’t forget working families at the old prison site

Utah citizens should realize a public benefit for the land use through housing for the workforce that will work and provide services in, around and to this area

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A rendering of a possible development in Draper.

A rendering by The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority showing what a new development on the old state prison site in Draper might look like.

The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority

We congratulate leaders of The Point redevelopment of the soon-to-be former prison property in Draper for their remarkably comprehensive, transit-rich, green and walkable community-building masterplan. This “framework” promises to be a model of the best practices of integrating mixed uses, mixed housing types and options and, we would argue, affordable housing for folks who will work in the blue-collar, lower-wage jobs within The Point. 

The framework acknowledges the need for housing affordability in order to make The Point inclusive, to reduce commuting, and to be a visionary leader and an example of sustainable community development. But to actually accomplish that vision, there must be a firm commitment for inclusion and affordability now, and eventually local ordinances and development agreements that ensure a percentage of all residential development will be subsidized and deed-restricted to meet the needs of working families

Of course, offering affordable housing opportunities for workers to live where they work will reduce their transportation costs, the need for parking infrastructure and commuting. Next to housing and utilities, transportation costs are the second-largest household expense, so reducing both greatly improves “location affordability” and desirability. This would also have a variety of ancillary benefits, like improved air quality, diversity and quality of life.

To fail to do this would be a huge missed opportunity and would run counter to the goals of The Point to be innovative, regionally influential, set the standards, take the long view and benefit the broader public.

Because the land is owned by the state of Utah, and there will be considerable infrastructure and other capital investment in The Point by taxpayers, Utah citizens should realize a public benefit for the land use through housing for the workforce that will work and provide services in, around and to this area. Some land within The Point could be donated to a land trust or land costs written down for residential developers so those savings could be passed on to eligible residents through deed-restricted home prices or rents.

The Point should employ a combination of carrots and sticks — requirements and incentives that would ensure affordability and reasonable developer profits, as well as revenues sufficient to allow for top-notch government services and returns on investment. This balancing act largely has been achieved in over 500 municipalities nationwide that have adopted inclusionary housing policies and ordinances.

Enlisting nonprofit affordable housing developers like our organizations would bring access to key federal and state funding supports to allow for inclusion of deeply affordable housing. Further sources of local revenue that could be utilized to underwrite the affordability of residential development are the housing set-aside of tax increment in Community Reinvestment Areas like The Point, and to enact a commercial and industrial development linkage fee that would be dedicated to the affordable housing subsidies within the 600-plus-acre footprint.

This would set a standard for inclusionary housing in Utah, provide a workable example of how to maximize the public benefit of using government-owned land to subsidize long-term affordability and would deliver substantial social benefit from government investments in The Point.  

In the months ahead, The Point will begin the search for partners — institutional, business, and commercial and retail anchor tenants, infrastructure, home and office builders, banks and financiers, community partners, and more. Requests for bidders for these roles may be issued before year’s end.

As it moves into this final phase of planning, affordable housing professionals and advocates hope to work with its leaders, state and local policymakers, and the city of Draper to make The Point a model of inclusion and affordability.

Mike Ackerlow is the CEO of Community Development Corporation of Utah. Janice Kimball is the CEO of Housing Connect (formerly the Housing Authority of Salt Lake County).