According to the City of Moab, “immediate availability of housing is a major hurdle for recruiting employees.” During the Dec. 13 City Council meeting, the council decided to purchase a duplex, located at 513 E. 200 S., which will provide transitional housing for city employees.
The duplex contains an upstairs four-bedroom, two-bathroom unit and a downstairs two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit, and the city offered to purchase it for a cash offer of $825,000. The units would be rented at “market rate,” according to the meeting agenda item, for six-month terms—the expectation would be that anyone living there would find a new place to live within those six months. The units would be rented to one “family”—one tenant, or one couple, or a family with children—each.
“We’re thinking at this time, and we can hammer it out a bit more, about $2,000 for the upstairs unit and $1,000 for the downstairs unit,” City Manager Carly Castle said. She expects that those units would be rented mostly by employees hired for department director and patrol officer positions, and said that amount of rent would be affordable for the salaries those positions earn.
This is the fourth property the city has looked into in the past eight or nine months, she said.
“The benefit of this appropriation is that it will secure transitional housing for city employees who are recruited from outside the community,” the agenda item says. “The City has difficulty recruiting quality candidates for these positions because of a lack of available housing, and the City also has difficulty retaining employees who lose their housing mid-employment.”
There were a few glaring questions about purchasing the property, Castle said, such as, does the city have the capacity to become a landlord and property manager? Is this a good way to spend money? What about Walnut Lane, the ongoing project to construct affordable housing on the site of a mobile home park?
“What we’re proposing here isn’t unheard of: plenty of resort communities and gateway communities own or acquire transitional housing to provide it to new recruits or to provide stability to current employees,” Castle said. She doesn’t expect that finding tenants would be an issue.
As far as the landlord issue, Castle said, she pointed out that the City already acts as a landlord and property manager for Walnut Lane, and the City leases another property near Spanish Valley. Employees who handle those issues already exist, she said.
Purchasing the property is a “good investment,” Castle said: if the city no longer has need for the duplex, it can be put back on the market.
“What I see this as is a place to put this money for a period of time as long as it serves us, and when it doesn’t anymore, we would see that money again,” she said. “And we might even see more.”
During a public hearing, one resident expressed her concern about the “impact on the neighborhood,” saying she was concerned about parking, yard maintenance, and privacy. Councilmembers assured her that the city would take good care of the property.
Ben Billingsley, the city finance director, attended the public hearing to tell his own story of finding housing in Moab when he started at his position. When he moved to Moab, his wife was pregnant: he said it was a stressful time for them trying to find housing in a town with a lack of it.
“It’s difficult to relocate to Moab,” he said. “Price is one component, but availability is the other.”
He said if the city has transitional housing, it would be able to find better quality candidates for open positions.
Jared Garcia, the police chief, also attended the hearing to express his support for the city owning transitional housing. When he was looking for housing in Moab after accepting the police chief position, he said there were moments when he thought he might have to back out of the job, because he and his family couldn’t find anywhere to live—something his officers go through, too.
“This is an opportunity to bring stability to the police department,” he said.
During a discussion, councilmembers expressed a few concerns: Councilmember Jason Taylor said he was worried employees might not be able to find housing after six months. But ultimately, members expressed support.
“I think it’s important to note that every single one of us sitting up here ran on some concept of affordable housing, or transitional housing, or essential housing,” said Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd. “That’s been going on for far longer than any of us have sat on this council.”
She pointed out that private employers in town provide employee housing: why not the city? By providing housing, she said, she hoped the city would better be able to staff its departments, which would in turn help the city run better.
“We’re not trying to spend money foolishly, and we’re not trying to make money over and above what this is costing us,” Knuteson-Boyd said. “… This property does seem like it’s the best fit for the things that we will need. Kicking the can down the road isn’t going to work anymore.”
The motion to purchase the property passed unanimously: Castle was instructed to close on the property on Wednesday, Dec. 14.