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Salt Lake mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall releases affordable housing plan

She offers 7 steps to tackle 7,500-unit shortage

Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall unveiled her plan to address the affordable housing shortage in Utah's capital during a news conference in front of the development Project Open in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall unveiled her plan to address the affordable housing shortage in Utah’s capital during a news conference in front of the development Project Open in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Katie McKellar, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall announced on Wednesday more details of how she would tackle affordable housing issues in Utah’s capital city, outlining a range of policies she’d implement if elected.

“The fact is the city government does not control the housing market,” Mendenhall said, acknowledging the state and nation’s hot housing market continues to push prices skyward, and a recent study has indicated Salt Lake City cannot build its way out of the affordable housing crisis.

“There are no magic wands a mayor can wave, but there are levers she can pull,” Mendenhall said. “This is why it’s so important that our next mayor has the kind of city government experience I do.”

Mendenhall, who is currently a council member, outlined her policies to address the city’s estimated 7,500-unit affordable housing gap during a news conference Wednesday, laying out a seven-step plan:

  1. Expand the city’s Redevelopment Agency programs to use city funds to incentivize construction of new affordable housing.
  2. Preserve the city’s current affordable housing stock with low-interest city loans, and a sweeping review of the city’s zoning codes to allow more housing types.
  3. Work with homebuilders and other community partners to explore new incentives for developing affordable housing.
  4. Reform zoning codes across the city to allow more housing types in more economically diverse communities.
  5. If Salt Lake City wins the 2030 Olympics bid, Mendenhall said she would work to ensure all housing built for the Olympic athletes and staff would be deed-restricted and designated specifically as affordable housing following the Olympics.
  6. Expand public transportation options to lower transportation costs to help residents afford to live in more parts of the city.
  7. Create incentives for companies to hire local, hire union and pay better.

As part of her plan, Mendenhall also pledged to propose a policy that has been controversial with some developers: inclusionary zoning.

As mayor, Mendenhall said she would propose to the City Council a policy to require a minimum amount of affordable housing in new multifamily projects — though she told the Deseret News during an interview she doesn’t yet have details of what that policy would include because she said the city would first need to have a “conversation with the development community about that.”

However, Mendenhall said it would relate to her aim to foster a “tech ecosystem” in Salt Lake City to attract high-paying jobs, but would not add to the “perpetuation of difficulty of finding affordable housing.”

“We need to work with intention to make sure that as we grow our tax base, hopefully through tech industry expansion ... that we’re not losing affordable housing and we’re intentionally creating new affordable housing,” she said. “If we’re going to ramp up our economy here, we need to ramp up our affordable housing, too. “

Mendenhall listed off her affordable housing promises after touring the construction site of a project she called a “beautiful example” of how developers can create cost-effective housing that is not only affordable, but also net-zero.

The development, Project Open, is a mixed-income project near 355 N. 500 West. Out of its current 112 units — with more coming — 81 are affordable, starting at $350 a month. The development, built by the nonprofit Giv Group, is expanding. Now under construction are additional buildings to offer more housing types, from micro-units to three- to four-bedroom apartments, some starting as low as $800 a month depending on income, said Giv Group’s executive director, Chris Parker.

Additionally, all of Project Open’s buildings were built to be net-zero and still cost less to build, Parker said.

“Truly this is meant to be a launching pad for an areawide conversation on how we build so we don’t have a doubling of air pollution when our population doubles,” Parker said, as well as provide projects create affordable housing.

Mendenhall’s announcement comes the day after her opponent, Sen. Luz Escamilla, announced her clean air and environmental policies. Throughout the campaign trail, both Mendenhall and Escamilla have prioritized affordable housing as a top issue for Salt Lake City.

Escamilla has said the city must use “all the tools in the city’s toolbox” to increase affordable housing, including the city’s Redevelopment Agency and housing authority, pledging to ensure coordination within the city and collaboration on state and county levels.