Council explores RDA role in providing affordable housing

With a budget deadline looming, the Salt Lake City Council acting as the Board of Directors of the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake is questioning the RDA’s role in building affordable housing and how future funds should be used in increasing the city’s housing stock for low-income residents.  On Tuesday, the council held a special RDA meeting to discuss how funds should be allocated and managed in future budgets.

“Are we going to continue funding out of the RDA, homeless services?” questioned Councilmember and RDA vice chair, Amy Fowler.

Fowler referenced RDA funds going to the Operation Rio Grande and how it relates to the RDA’s mission that seeks to encourage economic development and moderate to low income housing.  The councilmember also questioned what role the Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) should play in managing RDA funds.

Councilmember Charlie Luke noted that many RDA project areas have a need for homeless services.  Luke suggested that council keep its dual hats by leveraging their responsibilities as a council with those of the RDA. “It definitely is a benefit to look at the RDA as a funding tool for some of these issues,” he said.

Councilmember Andrew Johnston reminded council that homeless services are traditionally funded by Salt Lake County and that the bigger issue is the relationship between funding services and housing.

The council also explored ways to encourage more housing for the lowest-income residents.

“I’m wondering if we are creating too much funding opportunity in the 60 to 80 percent AMI (Area Median Income) range,” said Councilmember Erin Mendenhall.  “We may want to divide it out so that the funding lines up and everything is covered but we don’t have a great deal of over opportunity in one particular area that isn’t the highest need area.”

Mendenhall noted that the greatest need for affordable housing is for residents earning at or below 40 percent AMI yet most projects receiving loans from the Salt Lake City Housing Trust Fund have focused on projects focused on units for residents earning at or above 60 percent AMI.

Danny Walz, the RDA chief operating officer, advise the council to not limit itself on a policy basis by adding language that would prioritize projects serving residents at or below 40 percent AMI but to instead use council priority to allow the city to adapt to its changing housing needs.

For councilmember James Rogers the RDA’s role in building catalytic projects in project areas is one way the agency can best encourage more economic development in high-need neighborhoods. “When we are looking at an area, even before we create it, we should be looking at catalytic projects in that area to spur economic development,” he said.

On June 5, the council will hold a public hearing on the 2018-2019 budget during their formal meeting.

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