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The Details of Affordable Housing Are Tricky

As part of the new “Whole Foods” development across from Ruby Tuesday’s, there is a requirements to build affordable housing. The developer is meeting this requirement by building twenty, 800 sq foot apartments on top of a building in the development. The design is a 1 bedroom, 1 bath, with a kitchenette design.

One of the great things about this development is that they are actually building affordable housing. Many developers just pay money to get out of the requirement. So, that is a positive. Yet, when I look at the affordable housing component of this project, I wonder if it really passes the sniff test.

This starts with the price that can be charged for these units. The money that can be charged is a complex calculation but it comes out to about $950 per month. This could be fine, depending on the salary of the people living there. Ray Milliner, the County Planner on the project, said this morning on KPCW that the plan was to provide these units to people working at businesses in the development. So, let’s say a person gets a job as a cashier at the new Whole Foods. It appears that pays between $11-$12 per hour. That works out to about $2050 per month for a full-time employee. $950 is way over the portion of a salary someone making $2050 a month should spend on rent. Calculations say the maximum amount is around $600 on rent per month ($ 2050 X 12 months /40).

So, naturally the only way that really works is to have a partner or roommate. If both people make about $2000 a month, then $950 falls into a reasonable, albeit at the top of the range, amount to pay in rent. Yet, remember that the idea is for the people living there to work there. That is probably why there are only 10 parking spots allocated to these 20 units. It’s really hard for me to believe that each apartment’s second renter will work in the development, too. It’s still a little hard for me to believe that they would work within walking distance at a place like Ruby Tuesday’s or Walmart. It’s gets easier to believe some people might take the bus to Kimball (or Park City) and work there. These easiest outcome for me to see is that almost every apartment will have at least one car.

Perhaps this is a good test to see if public transportation really solves this type of problem. Perhaps jobs pay more than I think. Perhaps Whole Foods will support this and ensure that they are filled with their employees.

That said, when I read that the developer has planned 20 small apartments, designed to need 2 renters each to make them affordable, with the plan that all 40 occupants will work in the development (i.e. Whole Foods or a fewer smaller retail shops), and there are only 10 parking spaces… it makes me say “huh?” It definitely sounds good. It will be interesting to see what reality looks like.

I’ve heard arguments on both sides of affordable housing. Some people love it and some people hate it. I personally think apartments generally make up a great component of affordable housing. Yet, when the rubber hits the road and I see how it’s actually executed, it give me pause. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason usually doesn’t turn out well.

This should be a good litmus test to see if our local government has this concept under control and is making the right decisions.

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Melissa

Excellent point! That is a huge problem with the way we do affordable housing around here. The “affordable” units are often not affordable to the average worker. Many towns actually do their conversions based on what the person/people are making . The rule of thumb is that one should not be spending over 30% of income on housing and so the housing is actually charged based on what the person who applies for the unit is making, rather than some broad stroke price deemed affordable.
Another problem (besides the parking you pointed out) is the “kitchenette.” I am sure that could be fine for some younger people who might not cook a lot anyway, but once you get two people living together in a one bedroom, they are likely to be a couple and spend more time at home and might want more than a boiler plate to cook a meal. Especially if they are struggling to afford rent.


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