"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see."
-- Sir Winston Churchill
Utah law is very clear in signifying that all communities must plan for a sufficient amount of affordable housing. This statute requires communities to plan to meet a five-year moderate-income housing need, including an estimate of moderate-income housing supply, it's demand, and a survey of current residential zoning. It was in the early 20th century when zoning evolved as a means to stabilize property values and reduce conflicts between land uses. Additionally, one of the biggest factors in making housing affordable transpired when state law required communities to evaluate zoned densities.
While early codes primarily dealt with separation of industrial and residential uses, it was not long before different classes of residential uses began to be separated from one another. Traditional neighborhoods usually contained a variety of housing types: large family homes, cottages, boarding houses, duplexes and small apartments. Early zoning first separated apartments from other residential areas. Zoning subsequently evolved to separate duplexes, and, finally, zones were created that separated single-family homes from one another based on lot size.
Making a mix of moderate-income housing available is important to a community that wants to be responsive to the needs of its residents. In the 1990s, Utah housing went from one of the least expensive housing markets in the Western region to one of the most expensive. Similar increases in housing prices have been recorded in other popular Western cities such as Denver and Portland. If the widespread practice of zoning for mostly large-lot homes is not modified, economic problems will increase and people will be extremely limited in their lifestyles and household choices.
The benefits to having a diversity of housing in a community include the concept that as people move through life's various stages, they can live and grow in the same community. Young couples, families and the elderly can live near relatives. Children may grow up knowing people from different ages, walks of life and from different income groups. Broader choice allows a community to better serve the steady employment and household growth, projected over the next 30 years.
There is less demand on infrastructure. Envision Utah's studies show that greater choice in housing would reduce land consumption and increase redevelopment, thus reducing demand for new sewer, water and transportation infrastructure significantly.
Also, if communities are designed in a manner that is conducive to walk-able and transit-friendly neighborhoods, the demand for additional road capacity reduces.
With more choice, housing can be made available where there is demand for it. More people will be able to choose locations that allow for less driving and that are close to shopping, work and school. It allows more families the opportunity to choose from a variety of locations while keeping their housing costs within their budget.
Housing diversity can aid in reducing both homelessness and the impacts of poverty by keeping housing costs within the range of more families.
Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.