I recently returned from a quick trip to the Big Apple. It got me thinking: What do New York City and Salt Lake City have in common? Well, there's great food, swell vistas, massive potholes and homeless shelters. Guess how many shelters there are in the Big Apple: 20? 50? 200? Guess again. There are 674—including traditional shelters, landlord-operated shelters and converted hotels—and Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to add 90 more in the near future.
Both cities have similar problems: The majority of current shelters are old and decrepit, and the shelters are understaffed and overcrowded. New York's Daily News recently did an undercover photoshoot at several shelters and found crumbling bathrooms, gaping holes in walls, cramped work conditions and worse. The mayor is trying to buy buildings to turn into new shelters, but just like Salt Lake City, no one wants a shelter in their backyard.
According to Coalition for the Homeless, more than 62,000 homeless people stay in NYC shelters—about 78 percent higher than 10 years ago. SLC's homeless population has also skyrocketed and the ugly truth is that housing is becoming more and more unaffordable. Mayor de Blasio proposed a solution recently to address the crisis: When the city rezones an area to allow more dense construction or to convert land to residential use, all new housing would have to meet affordability rules. Basically, if you wanted to build a new apartment building, a percentage of units would have to be affordable for people earning the area's median income (a federally calculated metric).
According to the formula, an estimated 13-15,000 new units of affordable housing would be added within a decade. There is no math equivalent in Salt Lake City because our mayor hasn't adopted any percentages/requirements for new construction and affordable housing. Several thousand new apartment units have been constructed here in the past few years. Example: If 20 percent of 3,000 apartments being built were priced in the affordable-housing range the feds have set for our area, then 600 units would be rented to lower-income folks.
Both NYC and SLC, like many other cities across America, are seeing a housing crisis. The average Starbucks barista and Harmons clerk likely can't afford an apartment downtown, let alone find one that's available. We're losing our working-class and low-income renters to gentrification. The future for Salt Lake City's affordable housing availability is grim. About as grim as the inside of The Road Home and the Rescue Mission shelters.