Orem charrette bring out affordable housing issue

Orem residents and stakeholders gather around tables to discuss options and make recommendations to add more affordable housing in the city Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, at the Orem City Council Chambers.

Affordable housing issues: They have talked about it, now Orem leaders want to know what they are going to do about it in their city.

More than 60 residents and stakeholders including developers and realtors gathered at the Orem City Council Chambers on Thursday to brainstorm and then offer recommendations of how to ease the affordable housing crunch.

Ideas covered everything from home share programs for the elderly, to inclusionary zoning, to tiny homes made from portable storage units.

“We have to ask how we can help solve some of the issues the staff sees,” said Jason Bench, city planner.

Those in attendance had a variety of housing backgrounds and issues. One 52-year-old single mother with four children said she can’t find affordable housing and is concerned about the wage gap that is keeping her from ever finding affordable housing.

Sitting next to her was a student attending Utah Valley University who is involved with designing modular homes in a circle with common living room areas but having private rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. The building’s size could house 252 people on one acre of land. The homes are made from portable storage units.

Around the other side of the table was a woman who had lived in her southwest Orem rambler for 38 years and claimed land costs are making homes unaffordable. She also felt, along with many in the room, that city impact fees and other construction fees needed to be reduced so that when completed new homes would be affordable.

To start things off the city posted photo boards of homes and designs that attendees were to pick their favorites from. They also showed a variety of lot sizes to choose from that would make housing affordable.

Then the discussion was taken to tables where large city zone maps, paper and pens were provided for residents to get started on sharing their ideas and looking at where affordable housing could and should be built in the city.

A few tidbits and facts of information on Orem were shared to get individual discussions started. According to city information, 6% of Orem makes below the poverty level of $12,490 a year. About 24% reportedly make $46,000 a year. Neither of those numbers allow for the purchase of an averaged priced home in the city which is about $310,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

One male attendee commented, “We are going to have to be creative to find solutions.”

Comments coming from the group included the need to educate the public and get a different mindset before picking home designs.

Several groups discussed the need for zoning changes before they are able to think out-of-the-box, along with what possibilities can happen like detached accessory apartments (tiny homes), and renting a bedroom in a potential house share concept.

The state has mandated that cities must address and do something to add affordable housing in the city. According to Orem’s Community Services, if they don’t do it they won’t get state funding for roads and other items.

Orem is expected to have more than 200,000 residents by 2065, according to city growth statistics. The city has about 100,000 residents at present.

Some of the solutions and recommendations took on new looks from what the city has so far, such as making it easier for accessory apartments to be built. Mixed-use apartments were mentioned, and attendees also brought up that businesses could offer apartments above their establishments as affordable living spaces for their employees.

It was also suggested the state build student housing on UVU’s campus to leave land open for developments for senior citizens, starter homes and more.

Parking was also an issue with many attending. According to the city, 70% of lots along State Street are relegated to parking lots and landscaping. This is land some attendees said could be used for creative affordable housing.

Another popular idea was to find funding for redeveloping older neighborhoods and to find ways to increase a safety net in the city through housing options.

“We will take all of these ideas to the City Council,” Bench said. “We want to take a look at all of these issues from the city’s view. That’s the direction we want to go not in the next few years, but in the next few months.”

Bench said the city is hoping to have several of these charrette-style discussions with other residents and stakeholders to get as much input as possible.

The results will be added to the State Street Master Plan and to the city’s General Plan.

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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