Just prior to the city’s Dec. 12 town hall, I wrote a letter to Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus and Moab City Council to express my support for proposed ordinance #2019-02 — Planned Affordable Development (PAD), which would provide an increased density overlay for developing affordable housing in Moab.
I specifically stated my support for the language replacing the term “family” with “household,” as amended in the passage of proposed ordinance 2018-01, and defining the term “household” to mean “a person living alone, or two or more persons, whether related by blood or marriage or not, who reside together in a single dwelling unit.”
This minor change, along with the PAD as a whole, has garnered loud protest from some corners of our community, effectively drowning out other voices and shutting down any solution-oriented discussion. But whether through celebrating shared housing models, or through using thoughtful density increase to develop opportunities for affordable homeownership, now is the time for the city to cut through the noise and champion bold solutions to ensure a healthy and stable working class.
There are movements across the nation toward high-density solutions (often framed in the language of “YIMBYism” or “Yes In My Back Yard”) that not only create housing that is more affordable, but also have the effect of making communities more equitable and accessible, ensuring greater diversity. Rising home and rent prices tend to have the effect of limiting communities to residents already with means, often means gained through privilege pre-prescribed by race and class. Additionally, if done right, higher density brings neighbors together to help one another and function more intentionally within healthy micro-communities. It may be that fences make great neighbors, but I believe it is the spirit of collectivism and combined resources, both material and human, that makes great neighborhoods.
A little more background to emphasize the importance of non-family households in Moab: I have lived most of my adult life in shared housing situations with roommates, often friends, for reasons of economical, ecological and social preference. My parents and I own a house on Locust Lane that I have occupied for eight years while maintaining this kind of non-traditional arrangement. My home, and many in Moab like it, are extremely beneficial to this community, and fit quite well in a larger strategy to use density creatively to ensure abundant affordable housing.
Most of my time in Moab I have worked for nonprofits and supported this habit with restaurant work on the side. It has been a continuous reality for me that it is more realistic to live with roommates. Could I make more money doing something else? Sure. I have a degree from Stanford. But I decided a long time ago that how I spend my days is, indeed, how I spend my life, and that time spent in the service of others (and a fair amount spent outside in the sunshine as well) is far more valuable than clocking in at the 9-to-5 job that would allow me to effortlessly afford my own little box made out of ticky-tacky on the hillside. More to the point, I actually enjoy collective living with like-minded folks doing like-minded things, and I am proud to have a smaller footprint because I share utilities and resources with so many others.
The day we condemn this type of housing in Moab is the day that we not only lose our service workers, but also the majority of our frontline of community and nonprofit workers — and most of the creative spirits who give Moab its amazing cultural vitality. We should be weary of toxic rhetoric in our community that only “single-family” residences contribute to our core community, and that households of non-related working adults should be seen as a blight. The fact is that many of these single adults in town, myself included, have historically worked for organizations that serve Moab’s youth — BEACON and Youth Garden Project and the like.
Opposition to the PAD has so far lacked any constructive feedback beyond “not in my neighborhood.” But I believe density is completely compatible with good design and good neighborhoods. In continued public discussion of the PAD, I would like to strongly encourage the Moab City Council to make their best efforts to contain and minimize any traction gained in vitriolic rhetoric that appears to have classist and NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) overtones. I believe we can discern between objective and subjective adverse effects of increased density, and I believe it is in our interest to mitigate the former, and gently dismiss the latter.
Josie Kovash, a Colorado Plateau native, has called Moab home for 13 years. She is currently the music director at KZMU community radio, a board member with the Resiliency Hub, a bartender, troubadour, wilderness guide and a community volunteer at-large. She writes as a private citizen.
“Opposition to the PAD has so far lacked any constructive feedback beyond ‘not in my neighborhood.’”