Yesterday the State Legislature met to deal with a Salt Lake City issue that has become severe enough to require a bigger picture approach. While cities are given autonomy to function through individual governance, the charter and authority still stems from state authority. The homeless population in Salt Lake has grown in a specific area, the Rio Grande area, that was described by Speaker of the House Greg Hughes as being “lawless”.
As I listened to Speaker Hughes talk on a radio program yesterday morning, I was impressed that the state has come together in trying to not only address the problem but also figure out a long term plan to help this population move forward with their lives.
In case you have not seen or heard the news stories, the resolution that was almost unanimously passed by our legislators was to work across state, city and department lines in order to help fund the public closure of Rio Grande Street and lease it to Catholic Services in order to create a safe space for the next two years. This will require a high level of policing, accessible counseling and organized interventions to help those battling homelessness and drug addiction push forward into a new stage of living. This will be an expensive project long term but the state has agreed to move funds from various state entities as well as a large portion from the Department of Corrections to jump start the operation.
I have been greatly impressed by the willingness on a state level to jump into such a difficult problem. It would seem that a message is being sent that helping those who cannot help themselves (for whatever reason) is a priority for the people of Utah. So how does that tie back into Affordable Housing? On a flight home from Dallas over the weekend, I had the chance to watch a documentary that aired on PBS in May of this year. This investigative piece, “Poverty, Politics and Profit”, delved into the complex world of Section 8 housing and vouchers. While we have HUGE federal dollars going to this program, it is not meeting the need that exists. The greatest chance these recipients have for success is to move out from inner city areas into communities that provide better employment opportunities. Through the course of the program, it has become common procedure for developers to need to show community support before any of this federally supported housing can be built. However, because many believe that, while these programs are needed, section 8 should not exist in their backyards, most of this type of housing remains in inner-city areas.
I want to take a minute to bring this back to Kaysville. We do not have a great deal of affordable housing in our community. What we do have has been relegated to a specific area of town. It has been publically said that this type of housing brings crime and unruly elements that we do not want in our backyards. I would like to make a counterargument that by concentrating this type of housing to a certain area, we are further perpetuating the problem. We have good, even great, people here in Kaysville. I believe that if we were to intersperse these housing complexes throughout the city, the people of the city could step up and help make the difference that the federal program was originally intended to accomplish. We could be a force for good in the lives of these people, like those that the state is working so diligently to try and help, to give them a leg up. We have the ability to help those in need. Are we taking the easy way, checking the box without really trying, to lift someone’s burden?
I know that we are coming to the end of developable land in Kaysville. The final years of zone decision making will solidify our position on affordable housing. There may not be a lot of room to grow in this area but I believe as we make a concerted effort and step outside our fears, we can be part of the solution that the State of Utah has made a priority.