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The City Journals

What West Jordan is doing for housing affordability

Mar 20, 2019 03:22PM ● By Erin Dixon

As the population in the SL valley increases over the next few decades, West Jordan City has plans to streamline and support the growth. (Courtesy/Pixabay)

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

Rising prices, rising demand, rising population: For many people, Utah’s intensely competitive housing market is a cause for concern. 

Justin Hamilton, co-owner and realtor of Xenial Homes that operates in Utah and Salt Lake County, expressed concern about the future for his clients.

“[Buyers] are concerned that salaries have not increased to accommodate [rising house prices],” Hamilton said. “There’s a very high percentage of homeowners that if they were to purchase their home today, couldn’t afford it. [People] end up buying smaller homes/condos or going to more rural areas and commuting in.”

However, West Jordan anticipated the housing need and has been preparing. Every city has a general plan that dictates where and what can be built. The West Jordan General Plan was laid out in 2012. While small changes have been made since then, officials have been working on wisely-placed density ever since. 

Scott Langford, West Jordan development services director, composed a resolution in early 2019 outlining the city’s current work and future intentions with new residential buildings. 

“The resolution outlines some of the goals and policies that exist in our general plan,” Langford said. “One of those housing goals states that we need to provide a range of housing types, styles, sizes and price in all areas of our city.” 

The Utah Housing Gap Coalition offered a suggested resolution mid-2018, but Langford thought the plan they had in place exceeded the Coalition’s requests.

“I thought it would be better practice for us as staff to draft a resolution that addresses and officially declares what we have been doing as a community for a number of years and what we continue to do as we look to address some of these challenges,” Langford said. 

Utah State Legislature recently passed SB 34, Affordable Housing Modifications. This bill dictates to cities various requirements that may ease the rising tide of housing trouble. Under section 10-9a-403, General plan preparation, there is a list of more than 20 requirements, and cities must adopt three or more strategies to help provide affordable housing for diverse needs. 

Some of these suggested strategies that can choose include the following: preserve moderate income housing, allow for single occupant developments, implement mortgage assistance programs for employees of the municipality or encourage higher density housing near major vehicle corridors. (More information can be found on the State Legislature website, here: https://le.utah.gov/~2019/bills/static/SB0034.html)

Langford pointed out that West Jordan is exceeding the number of required solutions suggested by the state.

“West Jordan is already doing six or seven of those,” Langford said. “We agree. We need to be part of the solution. We’re already doing these things.”

Dense residential does not simply appear after the sale of property. Utility lines must be in place, which is a cost for the city upfront. 

Langford outlined his departments plans to prevent the current community from swallowing those costs. 

“The planning staff here have always thought it really important to leverage that regional investment,” Langford said. “The best way is to increase density in those spots that can actually support higher numbers of people living…[W]hether it’s roads, water or sewer. All of that costs a lot of money.” 

An ordinance passed in December 2018 allows some high density in commercial districts, other locations that already have the needed infrastructure as well as supportive roads.

“In commercial districts, we already have the roads; we already have the water and the sewer, and it’s not really going to impact existing residents as much as you would if you just decided to throw a huge apartment complex in the middle of a low-density, single family neighborhood,” Langford said. 

“There definitely is a place for larger lots and lower density, and I think people will continue to like that and want to buy that type of product. Not everybody can and so it’s all about balance and giving people choice.” 

In addition, three plots next to existing TRAX stations are identified in the resolution as areas that are already under contract and construction. These are the Village at Gardner Station, Jordan Valley Station and City Center Transit Station. 

Will the whole of West Jordan dissolve into high density in the future? Langford assures the answer is ‘no’. 

“There definitely is a place for larger lots and lower density, and I think people will continue to like that and want to buy that type of product,” he said. “Not everybody can and so it’s all about balance and giving people choice.”