Local groups celebrate completion of eight new affordable homes
by Molly Marcello
Staff Writer
Jul 02, 2015 | 5054 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah recently completed six town homes and Community Rebuilds completed two houses. Photo by Molly Marcello
The Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah recently completed six town homes and Community Rebuilds completed two houses. Photo by Molly Marcello
Open houses on June 26 celebrated the completion of several new homes for very low- and low-income Moab residents. Six newly completed townhomes were built through the “sweat equity” program of the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU) and two new straw bale homes were constructed by Community Rebuilds.

Officials with both organizations said that while local land prices and rent continue to rise, their groups continue to work to provide safe, affordable housing for the Moab community.

“Housing is one of four basic needs: Food, water, air, and shelter,” said Community Rebuilds’ Executive Director Emily Neihaus. “The combination of expensive land, low-paying service industry jobs, and busied construction industry creates an economic system where families in Moab cannot afford much of the available housing stock.”

Clay and Leslie Allred, who will soon move into their HASU-built townhome, lived in a basement apartment with their three small children for nearly five years while saving money to purchase a home.

Clay Allred said he knows many people in Moab who are also struggling with the high cost of housing, and feels lucky to have qualified for the HASU self-help program.

“I feel as if I’m surrounded by friends and co-workers that cannot afford a home in Moab. Luckily we qualified for this program. I have friends that make a bit more, and do not qualify for a Housing Authority program, and cannot afford a home,” Allred said. “That might be the most difficult situation in Moab — making too much to qualify for a program, but too little to get a home.”

Allred said the affordable housing crisis has affected local residents across the economic spectrum.

The Interlocal Housing Task Force

“I think [housing] is getting a lot of attention right now because people of all economic strata are starting to personally experience impacts of the housing crunch,” said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine. “From the folks that are wage earners that can’t find a place to live, to the employers that can’t find employees to provide the services they need.”

The Interlocal Housing Task Force has re-formed and is once again attempting to identify solutions to the community’s lack of affordable housing.

The group’s members represent a wide variety of community interests. It includes representatives from the city and the county, real estate agents and people with development experience, housing organizations and mental health professionals.

“It’s a very diverse group,” said Levine, who serves as the task force’s chairman. “The goal is to have broad representation both in terms of professionals that are connected to the housing industry but also a broad spectrum in terms of community representation.”

While the Housing Task Force does work as a larger group together — they will soon update the 2009 Affordable Housing Plan — Levine said they are also divided into various subcommittees that are each addressing different barriers to affordable housing.

While the near term projects subcommittee is working to get housing, as Levine says, “on the ground now”, the data subcommittee is undergoing a market analysis to forecast Moab’s future housing needs.

The taskforce’s land-use regulations subcommittee is identifying barriers to affordable housing in Moab City and Grand County land-use codes, while the design and construction subcommittee is developing design plans for affordable housing units.

While Moab is not unique in facing rising land costs, Levine said the community — and the Housing Task Force — must quickly act to find solutions to the problem.

“Every amenities-based community in the West is facing this challenge,” Levine said. “Having said that, there are communities that started to address this issue well before Grand County. While we have made some progress in updating our land-use codes, and applying for tax credits through Utah Housing Corporation that helped build Cinema Court [apartments], we still have to make some bold moves in the future.”

Less-visible effects The Housing Task Force acknowledges that the entire Moab community is affected by the rising cost of housing, from employers struggling to fill open positions, to employees struggling to make ends meet with several jobs.

Leticia Bentley, outreach and service director for the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, also sits on the minority, disabled, and seasonal populations subcommittee of the Housing Task Force.

Bentley has seen first-hand another segment of the community affected by the high cost of housing — Moab’s Latino workforce. She has known families who camp outside town with school age children, several families squeezed into two-bedroom trailers, and five men living in a garage.

“These people do not choose to live this way. There is not an easy solution to this problem,” Bentley said. “Solutions will require the cooperation of the business community and government agencies. The tourist industry continues to expand. Already there is not just a shortage of housing for the workers who are already here; there is a shortage of workers for existing businesses.”

Beyond causing individuals and families to live in difficult conditions, Levine said high housing costs can also produce less-visible, but equally unhealthy effects on a community.

“Because of the high cost of housing, individuals are cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened. That means they’re spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, or more than 50 percent when severely cost-burdened,” Levine said. “When individuals are cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened that means they don’t have as much money to spend on other essential needs, be it healthcare, be it childcare, be it consumer goods, be it food, be it transportation — all of those things.”

According to Levine, to begin finding long-term solutions to the myriad effects of high housing costs, the Moab community must answer one essential question: “In what kind of community do we want to live?”

The full membership of the Housing Task Force currently meets once monthly. The task force will begin updating the 2009 Affordable Housing Plan at its next meeting on July 6 at 1 p.m. at the Grand County Council chambers.

For more information, contact Zacharia Levine at zlevine@grandcountyutah.net.

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