Co-Housing

Back in 1998 a revolutionary concept was offered to Utah homebuyers: co-housing. The notion was based on similar projects in Europe where homes/condos/townhomes are clustered around each other to create ‘intentional community’. Wasatch Commons (@1400 South 1500 West) was built on 4.5 acres in the Glendale neighborhood with 26 townhomes. I was the original listing agent for the project and trying to explain the idea to folks was a challenge for the most part, however some people not only understood the idea immediately, but they also wanted IN!  Why?

Co-housing comes in different forms around the world. Here, the townhomes in WC have different floorplans, and you own your unit (although some owners rent out their units). You must park on the west edge of the community and walk-in to your property; thus you pass by your neighbors front doors every day along the beautiful winding paths in the project. There is a common house with guest rooms for owners’ guests and where there are regular shared meals and events for the owners and tenants who live there, a workshop and car repair bay, an exercise room, community fruit trees and garden pots, play areas for kids and lovely green spaces throughout. They are self-managed, and everyone has a say in how things are run throughout the year.

Since 1998 there have been no other co-housing projects built in Utah to my knowledge, and that’s a shame. The only new idea for a co-housing-like project is a tiny home village by the Other Side Academy planned for the northwest side of the Salt Lake Valley. However, the concept is gaining traction around the country since housing is so expensive. Culdesac in Tempe, Arizona has opened and is getting rave reviews. It’s all built around the idea of no cars and that people are happier in a walkable neighborhood. Residents get free rides on the Metro (a station is a short walk away), 15% off Lyft rides, Bird scooters are on site and there’s 1,000+bike parking spotsl. It is a rental community with studios to three bedroom units. There are 50+ shared courtyards that meander around the grounds with two plus miles of bike and footpaths, zero square feet of asphalt, 700 apartments and 44,000 square feet of retail and amenities for small, local businesses, a pool and dog park. Each unit has a washer and dryer, plenty of natural light and is very pet friendly. It’s billed as a ‘5-minute city’ because you’re only minutes away from an urban market, a bike shop and cozy places to eat. There are firepits, BBQ grills and water features (but the landscaping is desert/low water), and hammocks scattered around the 17 acres there.

Back here all we need is a futuristic developer and land for the next co-housing project. The time is now for ideas and actions for affordable housing options in Utah’s future!

Getting Greener

Who knew that a single head of lettuce can take up to 25-years to decompose in a landfill!  Momentum Recycling who picks up our paper waste in Salt Lake County wants to educate us that food waste gives off gases when it decomposes, like methane that’s 23 times stronger than the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Food waste in landfills also emit ammonia which really does a number on increasing our crappy winter inversion air. So far we haven’t had any home pick-up service to get food waste. Recycling minded individuals in Salt Lake County can dispose of their food scraps by taking them to HelloBulk! at 1185 S. 300 W. (a local drygoods and refill store), The Front Climbing Club at 1470 S. 400 W. and Wasatch Resource Recovery at 1370 W. Center Street in North Salt Lake. This latter company has Utah’s first anaerobic digester that can process organic and food waste to turn it into sustainable natural gas and fertilizer. For under $20 a month you can get a bucket delivered to your home with another bucket inside of it with a roll of compostable bags. Collect your food waste and then place it on the curb in the larger bucket every week and voila! The waste will be turned into good gas.  Certainly you can also throw scraps into your garden, but if you’re not one who possesses the passion given to those born with a green thumb, sign up with Momentum or get it to one of the collection sites.

Salt Lake City suspends brown curbside yard waste cans from being emptied from January 22 to March 3, 2024 to save fuel costs and reduce emissions in the valley, with the exception of dead Christmas trees. Do you have a holiday tree that needs to be composed? They ask that you cut up your tree and place it out in your brown bin, and especially don’t over-pack the bin so nothing shakes out. Make sure that you remove all ornaments, lights and tinsel before you load up your bin. If you live along the Wasatch front other than Salt Lake City, your tree will be picked up the day after your regularly scheduled collection day in January from Jan 4-31st. Do NOT put the tree in your waste cans or recycle cans. Flocked trees are NO BUENO for recycling of any kind. If the tree is over 8 ft. gall, cut it in half and leave it by the curb, and if snow covers it up, uncover it? Murray, Draper, SOJO, and Cashe Valley have drop off sites for dead trees. Provo will pick up trees on the curb and St. George has drop offs at the Reuse Center on Brigham Road. Here’s a great site for drop off rules around the state: pickyourownchristmastree.org/UtahTreeRecyclingDisposal. Freshly cut Christmas trees last between 4-5 weeks if properly watered.

Water, Water

 

“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” is from a poem from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge. Imagine living with a view of the Great Salt Lake and knowing that all that water south of Willard Bay is undrinkable. It might gnaw at you knowing that being surrounded by or within close proximity of it you can’t benefit much from the salty water except to rely on helping it to create great powdery snow in our winter and create the random ‘lake effect’ that boosts some storms into mega downpours.

This phrase also may relate to residents of Summit County, especially those living in Oakley City. Although there are lakes and rivers surrounding the town that saw massive spring runoff from the Unitah mountains which increased the flow during last year’s massive snowpack, it’s only now that the area is seeing more water.  You see, back in May of 2021 the Oakley City Council was forced to adopt the following moratorium: Ordinance 2021-6: “Moratorium on all building permit approvals requiring a new connection or extension of an existing connection to city water and a moratorium on installation of new landscaping that requires irrigation with the city culinary water.” The town leaders had to stop all building permits of land improvements such as new homes because the multi-year drought leading up to 2021 created a very scary situation for the area and they wanted to avoid a potential water crisis which could have created a scarcity for the city’s current residents. The Council was also worried that if they did run out of water there wouldn’t be any way to fight fires in and around the town. Projects that already had permits were allowed to continue but no permits requiring water connections were allowed for six months, and the Council had to extend the moratorium longer than expected to find more resources. Residents were encouraged to restrict water use to outdoor watering every other day to help ease the demand.

Fast forward to November 2023 and the City Council has now lifted its moratorium on new development and is now allowing new water hookups/permits. How so? It appears that a very deep well has been found and the City will be able to tap into it come June of 2024. Officials believe that this new source of water will quadruple its current supply to the approximately 1,500 residents of the town.

This pause in construction was unique in modern days to a Utah town but many Western states and towns have also had to restrict building permits, such as communities in and around Monterey, California. Luckily we had a ton of snow last year and a good spring so drought has ended in much of California, Nevada and Utah for now. As the locals here say, ‘Fast and pray’, or PRAY FAST that we have a great snow year!

If Wishes Were Fishes

It’s that time of the year when many folks make new years resolutions. Hell, I stopped doing that years ago because I was a failure at keeping my promises to myself. It would be more appropriate to say what I wish for, dream about, to wit:

-that anyone living in a major Utah city must be required to recycle at least paper and plastic and that if it’s unaffordable then the local governments should kick in part of the cost.  Around two-thirds of all paper products in the U.S. are being recycled but only 10% of plastics are recycled.

-that public transit (UTA buses, TRAX, light rail) should be free-always. I pushed for that when I was a board member at UTA and generally got laughs, but with our bad air and all the new construction of ‘transit oriented’ new housing in our major cities Utah needs to help not just the air but give a break for low income folks as well. I believe ‘Santa Cox’ likes the idea but the legislature has to figure out how to fund it. There’s talk on the hill that there may be a one year pilot program to test an all free transit system.

-massive new affordable housing options. There is a ton of land owned by the state, local governments and even non-profits/churches that could be dedicated to extremely low income, permanent housing. For those people in the service sector making poor hourly wages, single parents and especially seniors on fixed incomes need help now and will need more help in the future as prices go up for housing, utilities, food, insurance, transportation, etc.

-95% of the men I know personally are terrific people. My dream is that they convince the other 5% that are warlords, rapists, and murderers of women, elders and children around the world to stop the violence. Women could pull the old Lysistrata story out, where sex is withheld from men until they stop warring, but both past and modern history prove that this 5% don’t care about women and will rape and murder them regardless in their quests for power, control, and money.

Finally, I wish that 2024-the next presidential year for us-doesn’t turn into utter hell of worse vitriol than what’s currently out there and that by some magnificent miracle the U.S. Congress figures out budgeting solutions and passes reasonable bi-partisan bills. This current Congress proved to be the 2nd laziest, most embittered group ever elected.  The 118th Congress is on track to be one of the most unproductive in modern history, with just a couple dozen laws on the books at the close of 2023. This is the fewest since at least the 101st Congress in 1989.

If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets. May you have a great year end and may we all survive 2024!

Green Money Savings

I think it’s safe to say that we all want to have a healthy planet and that anything we can do to be greener and more eco-friendly will help, even just a little.  Owning a home and attempting to go greener can be costly, but a recent study from Rewiring America has come up with a way to budget to improve reducing your impact on global warming, to wit:

If you have under $500, you can change out your light bulbs and even some fixtures to be more energy efficient. Incandescent bulbs are history so installing compact fluorescent lighting or light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDS) will save you hundreds in electric bills each year. Installing a smart thermostat so you can turn down the heat or up your AC temperature in the summer while you’re not home is really great now that we can control these things with our phones. The estimated savings for both these items is $480. With a budget of $1,000-$5,000 you can install an electric charger for your electric vehicle at home, which should cost around $2,500 and save you @ $1,000 plus a 30% tax credit. Another item that will help is to slowly replace your windows, a few at a time, within your yearly budget of under $5,000. It’s also extremely inexpensive to blow in more insulation into your attic to save on heating and cooling bills-also under $5,000.  Also for less than $5,000 you can install a more efficient water heater and/or a heat pump water heater. Hell, and for less than $100 you can wrap your water heater now in insulation and that will save you money and help save the planet!

Another website, greenamerica.org found that in many households, the dryer is the third-most energy-hungry appliance after the refrigerator and washer. Air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by a whopping 2,400 pounds a year. According to the Netherlands Statistical Office, 75% of households in the US own a clothes dryer but about half of households in Europe own one. According to FEMA, clothes dryer vents become clogged with lint and cause up to 15,000 house fires every year. You can dry your clothes outside in good weather but many can’t commit to doing that in the winter. Find a space in your basement or storage area to dry clothes and get a clothes rack off the web. Get a floor fan and turn it on a low setting to dry the items and you will find that you will use a lot less electricity than you would use when operating a dryer. Also, drying clothes inside can have an added benefit, as it helps to keep indoor winter air moist like a low-tech humidifier.

 

Are You Thriving?

You might have heard the term ‘thriving in place’ as of late when it comes to Salt Lake City and the City Council. What does it mean and how does it impact you and I? If you want to do some deep diving on your own skip ahead and go to www.thrivinginplaceslc.org and you can get the 411 on how the Council and citizens are attempting to analyze and understand gentrification and displacement in various neighborhoods. The goal is to create a plan of action like many other cities in the country experiencing similar issues are attempting to do as well.

City officials started the process in two phases: 1) listening and learning from their constituents  about their experiences of gentrification and displacement and documenting various community assets such as cultural resources, special places and identifying people, groups and organizations that contribute to the area and 2) from the data working up priorities and potential actions for addressing things like displacement and creating long-term solutions that can help residents and communities remain in place.

What has been learned thus far? The obvious:  when growth happens and new development doesn’t keep pace with demand, housing prices go up and renters and home buyers can’t afford to live where they had called home. Buildings are torn down, and large apartment complexes go up in their place with rents double or triple what lessees had been paying before. Obviously when people are forced to move out of their neighborhoods the result can be cultural displacement. Lower income households are often made up of people of color and immigrants and when developers bring in new living spaces mostly only white people can afford to rent or buy. Small minority businesses like salons, bodegas, etc. disappear and multi-national corporations move in, like Starbucks.

The studies here so far have found displacement in SLC is significant and getting worse. That there are no more ‘affordable’ neighborhoods where lower income families can move once displaced. There are still not enough housing units overall, especially those geared for low-income families. Over half of our renter households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

The City is learning that there are no magic fixes, no matter what Mayor Mendenhall is touting in her re-election speeches. There are plans to learn from cities like Portland, Oregon’s Rental Services Office that provides training for landlords and tenants to help with resources to have our own type of center by 2024. To advance the priority of helping lower income renters build equity, the City is considering a partnership with Utah’s Perpetual Housing Fund and has proposed investing $10 million to help capitalize their work in support of Salt Lake City renters. I encourage you to at least go to the website and read the 69 page report of what’s happened and what’s planned because this affects ALL of us in the city and state.

 

OP ED

I haven’t written an Op-Ed piece in years, but after reading Chris Warton’s words in the October 5th City Weekly endorsing his ‘boss’, current Mayor Mendenhall, I feel I have to correct him and point out the flaws in his argument that we should all vote for her. Chris is my representative at City Council and my wife and I have a warm space for him in our hearts. When the day came that gay marriage became legal in Utah, my dear Mormon friend and attorney called me immediately and said “Get down to the County Clerk NOW!”. Despite a winter snowstorm outside, we raced down there with so many other couples, filled out our forms and waited to get married. We were second in line behind Jim Debakis and his former husband, and when it was our turn to pay the fee we were asked “Who married you?”.  Oops, we forgot about that minor detail but heard that a multitude of religious folk and officiants were downstairs waiting to marry anyone needing assistance. There stood Chris in a smart suit and bowtie, and with a few words and an invisible magic wand, POOF! We ran upstairs with our paperwork signed, and the rest is history. Fast forward from 2013 to now and my wife and I are grateful for that day and Chris himself but even more grateful for Rocky Anderson for fighting for our right to be married long before Chris had facial hair.

As our City hall representative in District 3 we generally agree with his voting record about our City and it’s future. I’m not sure he was old enough to vote when Rocky ran for office, but I’d like to point out that if Rocky was such an awful leader, how did he get elected to serve two terms for our city from 2000-2008? Chris points out that during his term he fired many staffers and picked fights with everybody. I applauded his ‘kick-ass’ style as he is a guy who doesn’t stand for laziness or mediocracy in his own life and in the people who work for and around him. Many of those employees could not keep up with the huge amount of work needed to move our city from ‘sleepy town’ to what has become one of the fastest growing cities in America. I served under him as a volunteer Planning and Zoning Commissioner and often listened to his vision and insight that our city was rapidly becoming much more diverse in population and the separation of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ was becoming more and more obvious every day.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate our current Mayor. I currently serve under her as volunteer Chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission in helping to preserve our precious historic neighborhoods, buildings, etc. We agree that this is something that adds to our local beauty and helps to preserve parts of our historic culture and creativity. I have never sat down and had a conversation between us and I don’t know her other than what we all see or read about her in the news. I give her props for financial management and having a terrific staff, some of whom were hired during Rocky’s term. But, and this is a big one, she is a complete failure when it comes to helping to solve the unsheltered issues we’re facing. I’m afraid she’s been caught in innumerable falsehoods, from the number of people who died on the streets here last winter to the amount of affordable housing units she’s helped to create. Rocky has spent the last few years actually ON the streets, befriending the men and women, the ‘have not’s’ of our city. He’s been there in snow storms and horrible heat not just dropping off water bottles but assisting folks in getting them to the right social services, helping to get an ID at the Fairpark, a job or housing.  Mendenhall’s response to the fast growing numbers of unsheltered is to push them from one block to another. And how this is done is horrific. Random volunteers like my wife collect clothing, food, tents, blankets and such and distribute it to the street people. When the abatements come down, and they come quickly, all of the personal belongings these people have amassed is bulldozed and thrown in dumpsters, leaving them again, with nothing. Those that have jobs and must leave their shelters while they work, come ‘home’ to nothing once a street has been cleared. No one has tallied up the financial cost of these abatements, let alone the human cost.

Last winter here was especially brutally cold. Our Mayor failed to provide an emergency shelter downtown. First United Methodist Church on 203 S. 200 East stepped up and said ‘we’ve got heat, let them come here for shelter’!  Volunteers rallied a wonderful group of folks who worked with the church to be open from dark to morning, providing food, bathrooms, water, and mats to sleep. It was wonderful and saved lives. Rocky was at the church night after night serving coffee and taking the time to get to know the guests. Mendenhall offered no support, but when the cry for help was noticed by the press, she asked the volunteers to also volunteer at a local rec center she was going to open as an emergency shelter, never offering to staff it with her paid employees. Chris Wharton, Mayor Mendenall and other members of the City Council stayed warm and dry in their homes.

We are team Rocky because he will get Sh-t done like he has before and we will all benefit from his passion and experience with the less fortunate in our City. And maybe we’ll see you on the streets this winter serving coffee and offering real assistance, too in your smart suit and bow tie? And for those of you reading, it’s too late to register to vote. PLEASE encourage others who give a Sh-t to get to the polls this Nov. 21st and vote ROCKY!

First Timers

With home mortgage rates hovering at or close to 8%, more and more buyers are finding it harder and harder to either qualify for a mortgage payment or find a livable property in their price range. I recently began working with a couple, first time buyers who could qualify for a home @$500,000. They didn’t have too big of a wish list: good sized yard for their two big dogs, three bedrooms, two baths, and a mother-in-law apartment downstairs with a separate entrance. And, most important, they want to live close to the University of Utah. A home, not a condo was the request, as buying a condo in that price range would most likely have an additional HOA fee of $300 or so per month for that Association’s water/sewer, exterior maintenance, insurance and any amenities like a pool, tennis courts, gym, etc.   Guess what?

Nada. BIG FAT NADA.

One of our immediate issues was that one of the two was quite tall. Older homes often do not have very large bedrooms and so a bed that might fit the two of them would take up most of a main bedroom and leave little or no space for side tables or chest(s) of drawers.  Plus, often living space in the basement would generally be very cramped for a tall person as ceiling height is often low and thus I had to educate them about this important factoid and then take them to homes built in the 1950’s and later to show them the difference. We found that anything close to the U, say within 20 blocks or so was in pretty crappy condition. My clients admitted they have no skills in rehabilitating a property and after learning that I took them to Rose Park where we saw a number of ‘flips’ /homes that have been remodeled in their price range. We saw some cute ones but there were no homes with separate entrances to have a downstairs apartment. They want this so they can have an income stream/renters to help with the mortgage payment.

The reality is that homes with a secondary apartment are about as hot as the hinges on the gates of hell because so many people now NEED rental income to help make the primary mortgage payment AND families are also looking to live together by having seniors or students of the family share spaces with parents or siblings. Housing is expensive! Back when rates were 2.5% for a 30 year mortgage, a payment with 5% down on a $500K home would have been $2,466 and at 8% would be $4,075 per month. We don’t expect interest rates to be coming down anytime soon, or housing prices to head downward. We’ll keep looking for that needle in a haystack but sadly we’ll most likely be battling other first time buyers in multiple offer battles.

GROWING, GROWING, GROWING

We are the most popular state these days with many of our cities experiencing amazing growth.  Southern Utah is especially exploding with big and small businesses alike moving there.  If you haven’t heard there’s a mega-resort called Black Desert Resort, pay attention. This luxury golf, dining and hotel /condo project sits on 630 acres in Ivins, about 8 miles northwest of St. George and will be the biggest resort in the state upon completion. The focal point, the Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course is already open amidst the lava and red rocks. The hotel is going to open this fall followed by ongoing construction of a total of 3,330 living spaces, 75-single family homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and restaurant spaces. Check out the 7,200 course and book tee times now at www.blackdesertresort.com.

And although it’s been an unusually active summer of road repair hell, the repaving and work on 300 West between 900 and 2100 South is finally done with new tar, bike path, crosswalks and sidewalks. The road hadn’t been updated for 70 years except for filling winter potholes and was SLC’s largest construction project in history.  There are about 25 projects of UDOT just in the Salt Lake Valley currently under construction, from work at State Street from 3000-6400 South to Big Cottonwood Canyon, along Redwood Road, and I-80 in Sugar House. Hundreds of tons of asphalt and concrete have been poured and laid and there’s still plenty of work to be done. Downtown Salt Lake City is working on a voter-approved Funding Our Future street reconstruction bond on 200 South, has just finished lower 9th and 9th and is now full swing on upper 9th and 9th. The annual street fair there last weekend had to move to Liberty Park for the Saturday event due to massive construction.  Highland Drive in Sugar House is also under the bulldozers and all of this construction fits in with the City’s plan to resurface 150 lane miles of Salt Lake City roadway.

Also in the capitol city you’ll see more than two dozen mid and high rises currently under construction with folks now enjoying the recently opened Hyatt Regency on the south end of the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center. You’ll see if when you go to FANX this week. The last guard tower at Utah’s old prison was demolished three weeks ago at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley which means after the past nine months the demolition of the old prison is almost complete. A mixed-use development of 600 acres (state-owned land) called ‘The Point’ will start construction in 2025 after final scrape and prep work is done to the land. The longtime chapel that served the inmates over the years is going to stay as part of the history of the site.

Urban Accolades

Utah continues to get accolades from around the country. U.S. News and World Report found our state the best state in the nation overall for 2023, for things like fiscal stability, tourism, education and health care, our natural environment, infrastructure, and low crime. Washington State took second place, whereas Hawaii got #1 for health care and natural environment, New Hampshire #1 for opportunity and crime and corrections, Minnesota #1 for infrastructure and Florida (believe it or not) #1 for education. Utah has also been ranked number one for business several times during the past decade according to Forbes and recently BusinessWire reported that Amazon found Utah to be the most entrepreneurial in the country.

In July, checkr (a background check company) found that Provo is the biggest boomtown, the fastest growing city in the U.S. Their metrics describe a city that experiences rapid economic growth and development in a short period of time. Factors include not just population growth, but unemployment rate (Utah’s rate is that @ 97% of our population is currently employed), housing growth, high-earning residents making more than $100,000 and the poverty rate. Of the 10 fastest growing cities, Utah had 4 of the 10-Provo, St. George, Logan, Ogden. Our neighbors in Boise City and Couer d’Alene Idaho took #2 and #3, Bend, Oregon was #4 and Reno, Nevada took the 10th spot.

No matter how you feel about living in Utah, we’re doing really well for a majority of our citizens. We actually have a surplus in our state coffers which very few states can claim. On the flip side of the good news, no town in Utah made the ‘Slowest Growing Cities’ list. The closest slow growth town near Utah is Casper, Wyoming, which made #22 on the bad list.

With growth comes issues that are challenges for our population and our politicians. Poor air quality, high energy consumption, traffic, congestion, increased levels of inequality and homelessness are results of uncontrolled growth. As we speed up growth and urbanization we need to ensure that we have adequate planning for our futures in the state. Having served as a volunteer Planning and Zoning Commissioner for 8 years in Salt Lake City and now as a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission I can highly recommend serving to help your city. It’s not only fascinating to learn about what folks want to build, develop, tear down or improve, but really fulfilling to be part of the process of urban planning. Each city has a way to be involved, by submitting a resume to serve on various commissions and committees. Often, they look for people who live in and represent certain areas of a city, and you don’t have to be a politician, have a college degree, be an architect or contractor to listen and eventually help make good decisions for all of us to build better cities and town.