Cities and towns nationwide are grappling with a lack of housing, and more specifically, a lack of affordable housing.
In Moab, the lack of affordable housing is felt most by the tourism workforce. In an analysis of current job postings offered at local restaurants and cafés, jobs for seasonal employees offer $15-$20 per hour. If an employee worked 30 hours per week, every week, their rent would need to be around $650 per month to avoid being “rent-burdened,” where rent is more than 30% of income. In last week’s “What’s For Rent Wednesday,” a Google Doc facilitated by the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, only two of the nine listings offered a monthly rent under $650, and on the Moab Rentals Facebook group, no rentals were listed at all—just posts from people moving to Moab for the season, searching for housing.
In the latest push to secure affordable housing for Moab’s workforce, the city council is proposing that a percentage of units within all new developments must be set aside for “Active Employment Households.”
The exact percentage hasn’t been decided on yet; during a workshop on March 8, the council heard from representatives at BAE urban economics, an economics and real estate consulting company, on how the city could calculate a percentage. The calculation was based on factors including total units available in the region and workers per household. The consultants use those factors to create an estimate for how many workforce households would live locally, which would help the city council decide what percentage of units developers should set aside for local workers.
In an active employment household, at least one adult in the household must be one of the following: a full-time (more than 30 hours per week) employee of a business, entity, or entities located within Grand County; an owner or owner’s representative of a business or entity with a primary place of business within Grand County; a full-time worker who is self-employed or works out of their home (must have a client base or workload primarily located within Grand County); a family member of the owner of the property; a retiree with a work history in Grand County; or a person with a disability as defined by the state and federal Fair Housing Acts.
Developments can’t cheap out on the affordable housing units either: as defined by the proposed ordinance, “Active Employment Units” must be “roughly proportional by number in type (studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom) and size to the free-market units, and of a quality (both aesthetically and with respect to standard construction) that is not materially different from free-market units.”
The units must also be occupied by someone who meets the active employment household requirements for a minimum of nine months per calendar year, and on the reverse, the units cannot be leased by anyone outside of those requirements for less than three months. This gets rid of any opportunities for short-term or overnight rentals.
While there’s no language in the ordinance outlining rental costs, Cory Shurtleff, the planning and zoning administrator, said since developers have to occupy those units with active employment households, developers will likely have to rent the units for less than the market price.
The city has to tread lightly to avoid being sued by any developments that recently submitted applications because those developments would be impacted by the new ordinance. At the workshop, two lawyers who work for the firm Snow Christensen & Martineau, Rob Keller and Nate Mitchell, were present to provide legal advice to the council—Keller said the lawyers would stay on top of any threats, but thus far he wasn’t concerned, he said.
Councilmember Luke Wojciechowski said the council should further discuss how to enforce the new ordinance. Shurtleff said enforcement will likely happen similarly to other land use items; he said he feels the city can handle the amount of enforcement the ordinance would require with existing resources.
“I’m not saying it’s less work, it is more work,” he said. “But it falls to the same people who are already existing in the structure of our review, approval, and enforcement processes.”
For next steps, representatives at BAE urban economics will present recommended percentages for required active employment units within new developments. On Thursday, March 24, there will be a public hearing for the ordinance at the planning commission meeting; by April, the city council will vote for final approval.