City of St. George making new plans to bring attainable housing to the area

Construction is progressing at RiverWalk Village, a 55-unit apartment complex for low income residents and cronicly homeless. St. George, Utah, Oct. 25, 2019 | Photo courtesy Switchpoint Community Resource Center

ST. GEORGE — The city of St. George in conjunction with Washington County officials, other public and private stakeholders are exploring ways to bring attainable housing to the area.

Along with the recent update to St. George’s Moderate-Income Housing Plan,  the Housing Action Coalition is trying to find options to bring down the high cost of housing throughout the area as a new local initiative.

Shirlaye Quayle, St. George’s director of economic development and housing, is the all-volunteer coalition’s co-chair.

“We are really looking at innovate solutions for Washington County,” Quayle said. “We’ve been reaching out to the public, everyone involved, including builders and developers, asking what resonates with them.”

To put things into perspective, one consideration when it comes to attainable housing is Washington County’s growth rate. According to the coalition’s statistics, between 1980 and 2017 the population grew from slightly more than 26,000 to nearly 166,000 — an increase of more than 500%.

“Our growth pyramid is not only getting wider at the bottom (for children under 10 years old), but it’s getting wider at the top (for people older than 55),” Quayle said. “We need to create housing for the full spectrum of our population”

At the groundbreaking the RiverWalk Village, a 55-unit complex aimed at providing attainable housing to the St. George area’s working poor, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

The growth curve is only going to get steeper, Quayle added. During the next 35 years, Washington County is expected to grow by nearly 230%.

The average median income of county residents is also a factor that the coalition is considering. A household with an annual income of $54,022 can spend $1,351 a month on housing expenses, or 30%.

“If you are spending more than 30%, you are considered cost-burdened,” Quayle said.

In St. George, there are an estimated 4,664 households considered to be cost-burdened.

For households making less than the 30% barrier, it makes it hard to make ends meet.

With an income of $27,010, a household can comfortably spend $675 on monthly housing expenses, and for the people that make $16,206, their expense cap is $405 per month. Washington County’s average wage in 2017 was $2,912 per month or $35,000 annually.

For homeowners, the picture is not much better.

With a maximum mortgage loan amount of 5.5% on a 30-year loan with $150 factored in for utilities, a homeowner would only be able to afford a purchase price of $211,522, Quayle said.

“When we look at what that means in terms of our income, that just doesn’t work,” Quayle said. “There are not a lot of homes for $200,000 out there, and whether you are renting or buying it’s a monthly chunk.”

The multi-member coalition recently began to work in individual task forces.

“The groups are going to be pulling together different tools from the various stakeholders to see how to build more attainably priced housing,” Quayle said. “The question is how do we make sure of the new housing permits issued, a chunk of them, and we haven’t defined exactly what that looks like yet. But it would be a reasonable number that is more attainable and not all just high-end homes.”

Along with other goals and strategies in place from previous master plans, the St. George 2019 Moderate-Income Housing Plan has identified five additional areas of focus. They include:

  • Rezone for densities necessary to assure the production of moderate-income housing.
  • Create or allow for, and reduce regulations related to, accessory dwelling units in residential zones.
  • Allow for higher density or moderate-income residential development in commercial and mixed-use zones, commercial centers or employment centers.
  • Eliminate or reduce parking requirements for residential development where a resident is less likely to rely on their own vehicle, e.g. residential development near a transit route, downtown areas.
  • Utilize strategies that preserve subsidized low to moderate-income units on a long-term basis.

“We are at the beginning of tracking how everything translates together,” Quayle said. “The cool thing about the coalition is that our builders are on board, we’ve got developers in the mix and we also have homebuilder associations who are engaged.”

The coalition will use tools like the Moderate-Income Housing Plan to expand the amount of attainable housing.

“Every little bit counts,” Quayle said. “RiverWalk Village is a fine example.”

New construction going in at the Sienna Hills development in Washington City, Utah, Oct. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

RiverWalk Village, under construction, is a 55-unit multi-family apartment complex that targets extremely low income and chronically homeless individuals. Other local attainable housing projects include Desert Color, Sage Villas, Desert Bluff and Red Rock at Sienna Hills.

“We don’t know exactly how we are going to impact the numbers, but we know that we will,” Quayle said. “We want to make sure we are strategically looking at the issues so that we don’t get behind the game. To do this ,we all have to work together and give a little bit. If we all give a little bit and use the tools at our disposal, then the impact is going to be much greater.”

To current and future residents, Quayle said there is hope.

“Because of these initiatives, the future is definitely bright,” she added. “Because of the way our community works together, we are setting ourselves up to not be in a crisis situation. While we won’t have 1,200 new spaces as quickly as we want we are going to be adding to the overall bucket and not just focusing on the high-end housing market.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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