First-place winners get $1,000. Runners-up get $500.

Salt Lake City leaders are looking for ways to cut costs and streamline planning processes for building affordable housing — from tiny homes to mother-in-law basement apartments — and they’re hoping cash prizes will attract talent to help.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other city officials on Wednesday announced a new competition, called the Empowered Living Design Competition, to invite designers and architects to submit their ideas for small-footprint homes.

“We don’t have a corner on the market of good ideas,” said Mendenhall, who announced earlier this year Utah’s capital city had an ambitious goal to start building a master planned tiny home community to house the homeless and have some homes ready for move-in before this winter.

Salt Lake City is planning a tiny home village to house hundreds of homeless. But where will it be built?
Could these Texas solutions help Salt Lake’s homeless? A look at the ‘most talked about neighborhood’ in the country

After her announcement on the tiny home community, Mendenhall said city phones starting ringing. Many are eager to help, the mayor said, and the design competition in partnership with the American Institute of Architects and the Community Development Corp. of Utah “is our response to that invitation from the design community to be a part of creating these solutions.”

The winning designs will feed a “library” of design plans homeowners and city officials can use to help expedite building and permitting processes, which would help cut red tape and costs, said Blake Thomas, director of Salt Lake City’s community and neighborhoods department.

City officials are encouraging submissions of designs for a standalone home or cluster of small cottages — also known as tiny homes — in a planned development, or an accessory dwelling unit (like a mother-in-law apartment) on a lot with a primary residence. Entries will be judged on five criteria: affordability, accessibility, sustainability, durability and livability.

The competition, Thomas said, is meant to “raise the visibility and inspire creativity around the ever-pressing issues of housing affordability” and the need to expand choices for lower-income Salt Lake City residents.

Thomas pointed to Utah’s challenging housing market and rising rental rates that are squeezing more and more lower wage earners out.

As home prices soar in Utah, you’ll need almost 3 times minimum wage to afford rent

“In Salt Lake City, a household needs to earn a combined wage of $23.15 an hour to afford a market rate, two-bedroom apartment. And as the median sales price of a single family home has soared to $551,000, both for purchasing and renting in our city are increasingly unattainable for Salt Lake City residents,” Thomas said. “Too many of our residents are being priced out of our great capital city due to stagnant wages and record-high housing costs.”

While the competition isn’t a “silver bullet,” Thomas said, city officials hope it will be one piece of a “larger strategy to empower residents to increase housing affordability and build a more equitable city.”

The competition seeks students and design professionals — not just locally, but nationally — to “harness their creativity to design small-footprint homes,” Thomas said.

Applicants must register online at by Sept. 10. Submissions are due Oct. 29. The competition’s jurors will then review submissions, pick winners and announce them at an awards gala planned for December.

Two first-place winners will be awarded $1,000 cash prizes and may be asked to develop the design through construction documents, which could occur through a separate procurement and contract process, according to city officials. Runners-up — the number of which city officials have not yet determined — will be awarded cash prizes of $500.

For more information, visit the competition’s page on the American Institute of Architects’ website.