A public hearing was held April 17 to gather community input on an affordable housing project known as Wingate Village. Zacharia Levine, director of Grand County Community and Economic Development Department, discussed the housing plan with Grand County council members. [Courtesy photo]

Two residential housing projects — one underway, but the second just an idea — could bring some relief in Moab and Grand County’s shortage of affordable housing.

By its formal definition, “affordable housing” suggests that a household should not spend more than 30 percent of its gross take-home pay on housing, said Grand County Community and Economic Development Department Director Zacharia Levine.

Levine said that’s the policy definition provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it’s the definition used by both the city and county to guide the decision-making process in the jointly adopted Housing Study and Affordable Housing Plan.

The 2009 study represents a collaborative effort among agencies to address Grand County’s housing issues arising from a combination of Moab’s unique economy and housing market dynamics. The study indicated that employment opportunities and wages have not kept pace with increased housing costs and demand.

The report goes on to state that with the then-average home price of $265,452, a household with one wage earner hasn’t been able to afford the average Grand County home sold since October 2006 — at that time, nearly 45 percent of all households earned less than $20,000 a year.

In the Grand County Community and Economic Development Department’s most recent report in 2018, the average home price has increased to $325,000.

Working with the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, the Grand County Community and Economic Development Department is moving forward with plans to build a 33-unit affordable housing development called Wingate Village.

Wingate Village will be a 100 percent affordable-housing subdivision, Levine said, providing a rental price-point that’s manageable for low- and moderate-income households with one wage earner.

The plan was discussed April 17 with the Grand County Council during its regular meeting agenda. A public hearing to get the input of locals — including that of future neighbors to the Wingate Village project — was held during the council meeting, but no members of the public appeared for the meeting.

Levine said the Wingate Village project, to be located at 3318 S. Willow Tree Road, received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the amount of $354,000 to pay for infrastructure construction improvements in phase one of the two-phase subdivision development.

Eleven detached housing units will be constructed during phase one, with another 22 attached units built in phase two. The Wingate Subdivision will be located on South Willow Tree Road, adjacent to Southgate Village and near the school district-owned property by Old Spanish Trail Arena (OSTA).

243 housing units could come from Canada

The Grand County Community and Economic Development Department helped bring another idea for affordable housing to the table during the April 17 Grand County council meeting.

Wayne Aston, owner of Black Oak Development Group, presented council with an idea to put 243 affordable housing units on a Grand County-owned 20-plus acre parcel of land at Spanish Valley Drive (north of Allen Street in San Juan County).

Aston said that the affordable housing units are already built — in Canada. Aston was offered the opportunity to purchase the existing units in Canada and now wants to move those housing units to the Grand County area.

Aston said the existing units that have already been built cost just one-quarter of the $25 million it would cost to build the units new. He said the units in Canada are left over from a construction project, and said the opportunity to purchase the units and relocate them is “a unique situation.”

“We can get rent as low as $450 a month, which is astounding,” Aston said. Based on income needs, monthly rent for the units would likely range on a scale between $450 and $1,500.

Aston added that he has put a lot of thought into the idea, noting that 58 percent of wage earners in the area earn less than $55,000 a year, and offered to create a contract with the county council to pay for the initial expenses of purchasing the housing units.

Council vice chair Curtis Wells asked Aston if he had an estimate on the cost to the county associated with the infrastructure for that idea. Aston said he would estimate the infrastructure to cost about $1 million. Wells suggested the council form a small committee to plan out the endeavor and asked Levine for his input.

Levine said not to rush the plan, and said he agreed with Wells about forming a small committee to study the plan. Upon approval of council, a small committee of three council members was formed. The county building department and county attorney will also be involved with the committee, council said.

“I would like to huddle internally, chew through this,” Wells said.

“We want to act cautiously, but quickly,” council chair Mary McGann added.

Affordability discussed at council meeting

“We want to act cautiously, but quickly.” – Grand County council chair Mary McGann