Dec 14, 2023 - Real Estate

Reflecting on "neighborhood character" in Salt Lake's debate over multifamily housing

Illustration of a welcome mat but it says "Welcome?"

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Salt Lake City Council cleared the way last week for multifamily buildings in residential neighborhoods and added incentives for property owners to include more affordable units to help remedy the city's housing crisis.

Driving the news: The reforms passed on. Dec. 5 include speedier permitting, flexible parking requirements and taller height limits for some apartment and condo buildings.

  • Most significantly, duplexes will be allowed in all residential neighborhoods, with more three- and four-plex buildings allowed throughout the city.
  • They also introduce design guidelines for row houses and cottages.

Why it matters: "Infill" or "missing middle" housing is seen as a way to add to the housing supply, especially in Salt Lake's increasingly unaffordable single-family neighborhoods.

  • To enjoy the increased flexibility, developers must offer some of their units at prices affordable for families earning less than the Salt Lake area's median income.

ICYMI: You now need nearly $140,000 a year to afford a typical SLC home

The other side: Residents in some of the East Side's wealthiest areas have complained that apartments, condos and townhomes will degrade the character of their neighborhoods, some of which are considered historic.

Zoom in: I, too, am an East Side homeowner in a mostly single-family neighborhood — but one that's peppered with multi-family buildings.

  • I live close to the Fresh Market on 1700 South and 900 East. Please don't come TP my house.

By the numbers: The 14 buildings on my block include: a triplex, three quads in a row and a duplex — and another quad is under construction behind a single-family home.

  • Another duplex is across the street.

How it works: In my experience, our renters and multi-family residents have only added to the neighborliness of the block.

  • One knows every dog in the area by name and texts my family whenever she sees a package on my stoop.
  • Another, who worked as a nanny, gives me great gift ideas for my kid.
  • Another feeds my cats when I'm out of town (and will certainly catch you if you try to TP my house).

Meanwhile, I used to live in a duplex on the East Bench, where there's vigorous opposition to increased housing density and where, after five years, I could count on one hand the number of residents who knew my name.

  • Both families in my duplex welcomed new babies just four months apart; neither of us got so much as a visit or a casserole from the other neighbors.

My thought bubble: Across the country, opponents of multifamily housing have long warned it attracts disengaged residents who don't mesh with close-knit, single-family neighborhoods.

  • That belief directly contradicts my experiences in 16 years as a Salt Lake City resident. If you think you won't like your multifamily-dwelling neighbors, that might be a "you" problem.

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