All the ‘target dates’ are long passed, too

On Feb. 14, 2017, the Moab City Council voted 4-0 to adopt the Moab Area Affordable Housing Plan.

The plan included 25 action items on which the city was a lead agency. To date, it has completed half of them despite each of the “target dates” outlined for one-time items having passed by 2018, according to officials familiar with the plan.

The Grand County Commission, which was a council at the time, adopted the same plan two months later by a 6-0 vote. Following that, Zacharia Levine, the first author of the plan and director of the county’s Community and Economic Development Department at the time, led the county to completing some of its action items. That’s according to Grand County Commission Administrator Chris Baird.

Moab City Senior Projects Manager Kaitlin Myers is the secretary for the Moab Area Housing Task Force. She is also the staff person responsible for housing plan implementation, according to her and Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus. She and Jenna Whetzel, the chair of the task force and project manager for the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, reviewed the plan with the newspaper to assess the completion status for each item on which the city was a lead agency.

Due to recent turnover in the county planning department, the person responsible for housing plan implementation at the county, John J. Guenther, is starting work this week, according to Baird. In lieu of Guenther, Baird reviewed with the newspaper the county’s status.

How the plan is organized

The 2017 plan lays out 50 action items organized into nine groupings. All but one item has at least one “lead agency” assigned to it and a “target date,” some with a note that the items are “ongoing” efforts and therefore not necessarily “complete” or “incomplete.”

Often in the list, the city and county are both marked as the lead agencies. Other agencies represented are the task force, the housing authority, the Moab Area Community Land Trust, and some local nonprofits.

All but one item have “implementation partners” listed. Some have “possible funding sources” and a “status” as of the time the plan was prepared.

Draft changes to the plan pending

The task force revisited the plan last month to draft updates to it that Whetzel said it will bring before the city council and county commission for readoption. In updating the plan, she said some target dates were updated, some items were merged or removed, others were marked as complete or ongoing, and each item is now assigned a low, medium, or high priority.

The update will come at least four years after the latest formal approval of the plan by the city or county. Prior to the two adopting it in 2017, the bodies considered the plan in 2009, when the task force and the Rural Community Assistance Corporation initially wrote the plan. The corporation is a nonprofit that operates across the western U.S.

Completion status overview

What follows are each of the 26 items on which the county was a lead agency in the 2017 plan. The city is also the lead agency on 25 of the items. One related to property tax did not apply since the city does not levy a property tax.

Of the 25 items assigned to the city, it has fully completed or is regularly completing eight, and eight are incomplete and not ongoing. Likewise, the county has fully completed or regularly completes eight items on the list, and five of its items are incomplete and not ongoing.

The remainder — nine items for the city and 13 for the county — are somewhere in between. For example, the county regularly compiled housing supply and demand data until Levine departed last June, so it has not completed any such updates since, according to Baird.

Likewise, the city has implemented ordinances like the Planned Affordable Development to address some action items, but Myers is currently reviewing it for potential improvements, as it has proven ineffective so far.

The completed items

The first item on the list, 1.a. in the document, calls for both the city and the county to “Consider hiring a staff person explicitly responsible for housing plan implementation.” The target date set for the item was 2017. County and city officials both said their respective agencies have completed this item, with Myers the lead for the city and Guenther, who is currently on-boarding, for the county.

Baird said that Levine was primarily in charge of implementing the plan before he left, at which point, it became the purview of the planning and zoning director. Mila Dunbar-Irwin, who worked under Levine before his resignation, took over that role after his departure. Guenther is now taking her position, as she left the county government in February.

Other completed items include ordinance implementations, communications and education about the housing plan, and various forms of subsidy for affordable housing.

The incomplete items

One item that neither the city nor the county have completed is 4.c. in the list, “Develop mixed-use ordinance.” The target date was 2017-2018. Although the city and county each developed mixed-use standards in 2019 when they created new rules for lodging developments, the rules do not apply to the many other zones around the city and county.

Neither the city nor county have developed zoning regulations for tiny houses, which is item 4.f. on the list. Myers and Whetzel said that the task force opted to remove this item the draft 2020 action plan.

Other incomplete items concern regulations that were never drafted, further planning on certain aspects of the housing plan, and some items that only the city or county (but not both) have completed. For example, the city does not have any staff explicitly responsible for economic development, but the county does: Elaine Gizler, who directs the county’s Economic Development Department.

Ongoing, partial completions, and other

The other items on the action plan are neither complete nor incomplete. For example, Levine completed many ongoing items when he worked for the county, but he left last year, and Baird said some of those responsibilities have gone neglected.

The county passed the High-Density Housing Ordinance in 2018 to address many of the items on the list, but the county has since recast the purpose of the ordinance. Baird said that appeals of that decision call into question whether the ordinance will be effective in satisfying the action items it was meant to address.

The action plan also called for the city and county to “Evaluate opportunities to develop housing or mixed-use developments on publicly owned parcels” by the target date of 2016. The city is working to develop Walnut Lane, a property that it acquired after the plan was drafted, but Myers said it has not evaluated opportunities on other parcels that it owns.

The 26 action items

This list can be found at something. The completion statuses are based on previous reporting, an interview with Myers and Whetzel, and an interview with Baird. Moab City Communications and Engagement Manager Lisa Church and Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus also provided relevant information.

1.a. Consider hiring a staff person explicitly responsible for housing plan implementation. Target date: 2017.

City: Complete. Myers said that she is the city staffer most responsible for the city’s part of implementing the plan. Separately, Niehaus also said that Myers was the responsible staff person. Myers joined the city in October 2019.

County: Complete. Baird said that implementing the affordable housing plan is part of the role of the county’s planning and zoning director. Mila Dunbar-Irwin held the role before leaving the county in February; John Guenther, who is starting work this week, is now taking over the position.

1.b. Consider hiring a staff person explicitly responsible for economic development. Target date: 2017.

City: Incomplete. Church said that Ken Davey, a former city staffer, filled this role until his position was cut in September 2015, under the leadership of Then-City Manager Rebecca Davidson. Davey’s title was Administrative Analyst and Economic Development Specialist. The position has not been reestablished.

County: Complete. Levine filled this position until his departure in 2019. The county today has Economic Development Director Elaine Gizler, and a small support staff working under her.

1.c. Collect data relative to the supply and demand for housing in the Moab Area. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Completing annually. Myers, a city employee, regularly aggregates state, federal and other data sources related to housing affordability in Moab and shares it with city officials.

County: Ongoing, but not recently.** Baird said that Levine collected housing supply and demand data through an established evaluation process prior to his departure from the county in June 2020. Baird said the data has not been updated since then.

1.d. Update housing plan as needed to reflect current data, market analysis, and economic conditions. Target date: 2017, ongoing.

City: Partially ongoing. Myers contributed to the task force’s recent update to the plan. However, the city council has not officially revisited the plan since 2017.

County: Not ongoing. Baird said that the task force has taken over updates to the housing affordability plan and that Dunbar-Irwin did not update the county’s housing plan. The county commission also has not officially revisited the housing plan since 2017.

1.e. Evaluate policy scenarios and set intermediate (1, 2, 5, and 10 year) goals that lead to the achievement of the Vision. Target date: 2018.

The vision in the plan is for a “community that includes an affordable housing opportunity available to each resident of the Moab Area.”

City: Incomplete. The city does not goals tiered in 1-, 2-, 5-, or 10-year increments, according to Myers. Whetzel and Myers said that this action item was removed from the draft 2020 action plan in favor of prioritizing action items as low-, medium-, or high-priority.

County: Partially complete. Baird said that the county’s High-Density Housing Overlay and Assured Housing ordinances constituted part of the process of evaluating policy scenarios in the county, but the county does not maintain a set of goals tiered by timeline.

1.f. Provide annual updates on affordable housing plan implementation. Target date: 2017, ongoing.

City: Completing annually. The task force briefs the city council and public on an annual basis on the housing affordability situation in Moab, including briefs related to completed and ongoing efforts on policymaking and development projects. Myers contributes to preparing those reports.

County: Partially completing. Though the county also receives annual briefs from the housing task force, county staff have not provided annual updates on affordable housing plan implementation since Levine’s departure in 2019.

3.d. Develop and publicize a housing and economic development website; Distribute the Housing Plan; Distribute resources and tools for affordable housing. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Complete, ongoing. City and county staff and task force members distributed the housing plan and initial set of housing resources and tools shortly after the plan was adopted by the city and county. Katie Minehart, an AmeriCorps VISTA working for the county and the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, is updating the website on housing resources, according to Myers, Whetzel, and Baird.

County: Complete, ongoing. Baird said that a county employee was in the middle of updating the county’s website for housing resources and that the city’s economic development staff was making similar updates to its economic development website.

3.e. Increase local capacity by reviewing successful affordable housing developments, networking with organizations, visiting and hosting other communities, and attending conferences. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Complete, ongoing. Moab City Council Member Kalen Jones, with the help of county and city staffers, brought an official from Vail, Colorado to Moab in 2019 to discuss the town’s deed restriction purchasing program. City officials also regularly attend housing and planning conferences, according to Myers.

County: Ongoing, but not recently. Baird said that “probably” no county staffers had worked on this item since Levine’s departure in 2019.

4.a. Adopt an assured housing ordinance. Target date: 2017.

City: Complete. The Moab City Council approved the Workforce Assured Housing Ordinance in 2018, which requires that new lodging developments be accompanied either by new workforce housing development or a payment in lieu of the development, commensurate with the cost of such a project, to the city’s assured housing fund. That fund is currently slated to be spent developing the city’s public housing project on Walnut Lane.

County: Complete. The county approved an assured housing ordinance in 2017. Only lodging developments are directly affected by the ordinance because an economic analysis showed that they were the only that could bear the additional costs of assuring workforce housing. Other industries, locally at least, were not lucrative enough at the time.

4.b. Strategically increase zoning densities to facilitate compact development patterns. Target date: 2017.

City: Partially complete. Although the city passed its Planned Affordable Development ordinance in 2019, it has not garnered any formal interest from developers. Myers said that updates to the ordinance are in the works as she gathers input from developers who might use it. Myers and Whetzel said the item was merged with other items in the draft 2020 action plan.

County: Possibly complete. Grand County passed its High-Density Housing Overlay in 2019, which increases zoning allowances to varying degrees in different parts of unincorporated Grand County. However, Baird said that appeals over rules passed this year that related to the ordinance have created questions over the ordinance’s efficacy.

4.c. Develop mixed-used ordinance. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Incomplete. Myers said that a mixed-use ordinance was a low priority for the county. The city’s 2019 lodging regulations include mixed-use standards, but the standards are limited to lodging developments and have not been generalized into a broader mixed-use ordinance.

County: Incomplete. Baird said that, like the city, the county’s 2019 overnight accomodations ordinance establishes mixed-use standards, but only for new lodgings.

4.d. Strengthen and formalize incentives for affordable housing developers. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Incomplete. Myers said the city has few formal incentives for affordable housing developers. One of the primary incentive structures, the city’s Planned Affordable Development ordinance, has not been effective to date.

County: Possibly complete. The currently contested High-Density Housing Ordinance incentivized affordable housing development but is currently the subject of an appeal by developers.

4.e. Review City and County Land Use Codes to identify and document barriers to affordable housing and engage in public process to mitigate or remove those barriers. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Incomplete, ongoing. Myers said that there has not been any formal review of the city land use code that would document barriers to affordable housing. Although the city created the PAD and assured housing ordinances, it has not formally documented barriers to housing affordability.

County: Complete. Baird cited the county’s HDHO and assured housing ordinances as products of its review of the county land use codes and the barriers it presents to affordable housing.

4.f. Create zoning regulations for “tiny houses” and “tiny house communities.” Target date: 2017.

City: Incomplete. Myers and Whetzel said that tiny homes had been removed from the 2020 action plan. The city does not have zoning regulations for tiny houses.

County: Incomplete. Baird said that the county had not established such zoning regulations.

4.g. Encourage land use efficiency by allowing Accessory Dwelling Units. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Complete. Myers said that city code allows for property owners to establish accessory dwelling units. The city opposed legislation in 2021 that would have have preempted local land use authorities to expand permissions to property owners across the state to establish accessory dwelling units.

County: Complete. Baird cited ordinances in county code that alow for the construction of accessory dwelling units. The county also opposed the 2021 legislation on accessory dwelling units.

4.h. Expand infill development opportunities through use-specific design standards. Target date: 2017-2019.

City: Incomplete. Myers and Whetzel said that the updated 2020 housing plan merges this action item with 4.b., which concerns density increases.

County: Incomplete. Baird said that there was “more that could be done” on infill development standards in the county, but it was primarily a consideration for the city, which is more developed overall than the unincorporated county.

5.f. Provide tax abatement on residential rehabilitation and replacement for low-income households. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Not a lead agency. The city does not and did not levy a property tax.

County: Incomplete. The county provides fee waivers on certain housing-related developments, but it does not provide tax abatements for home improvements and replacements to low-income households.

5.h. Require housing mitigation plans when land use applications propose demolition of existing housing units. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Incomplete.

County: Incomplete. Baird said that there have been discussions on a case-by-case basis with some developments but that the county had no formal requirement. He also said that the action item would be more relevant to the city, as redevelopment is more common in urban rather than rural areas, and the unincorporated county has seen little housing demolition.

6.a. Require all new affordable housing to include deed restrictions. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Partially complete. PAD has deed restrictions and is targeted at affordable housing. Additionally, affordable units built by local nonprofits (like the Moab Area Community Land Trust) and quasi-governmental organizations (chiefly, the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah). However, the city does not formally require that each new affordable housing unit include deed restrictions.

County: Partially complete. The HDHO and assured housing ordinances for the county both contain deed restriction requirements. Similar to the city, the county has no blanket requirement for deed restrictions on new affordable housing.

6.b. Establish minimum requirements for affordable housing deed restrictions to be used in the City and County. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Incomplete. In a concrete sense, according to Whetzel and Myers, this item is incomplete. The city has a standard deed restriction for use under the PAD, but minimum requirements for deed restrictions within the city at large do not exist, they said.

County: Partially complete. The county also has template deed restrictions for multiple programs like the HDHO and assured housing policy, like the city. Baird also said the county assures that nonprofit developers building affordable housing in the unincorporated county include deed restrictions, but it does not have a formal, minimum standard.

6.e. Establish agreements and funding mechanisms for deed restriction administration. Target date: 2017-2018.

City: Partially complete, ongoing. Myers said that discussions with the housing authority on deed restriction administration through PAD are actively ongoing but not complete.

County: Complete. The county has established an agreement with the housing authority to administer HDHO deed restrictions.

7.a. Provide educational resources to local development community. Target date: 2017, ongoing.

City: Partially complete, ongoing. The county has done more on this front than the county, according to Myers. While it is happening in varying capacities throughout the valley, the city has not led on providing those resources. Myers also said that COVID-19 has interrupted workshops with developers about these resources.

County: Partially complete, ongoing. Baird said that this item related to ongoing work by one of the county’s AmeriCorps VISTA staffers to consolidate resources.

8.a. Establish housing funds within the City and County budgets to support the development of affordable housing. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Complete. In 2018, the city passed its Workforce Assured Housing Ordinance. As part of establishing the ordinance, the city also established a fund to directly support the development of affordable housing, supported by payments from developers creating new lodging developments.

County: Complete. The county also established a fund in 2018 supported by new lodging developments. However, because hotel development has been concentrated within city limits since the new rules passed, it has not amassed many funds, according to Baird.

8.b. Evaluate opportunities to develop housing or mixed use developments on publicly owned parcels. Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Partially complete, ongoing. The city has evaluated and continues to evaluate opportunities for development of parcels it owns, including Walnut Lane.

County: Partially complete, ongoing. Baird said that evaluations on county property in the San Juan County portion of Spanish Valley are ongoing. However, he said, “the county is not a developer” and it “hasn’t got the staff to do a big, affordable housing project,” so such a development would have to be a partnership with another entity in the development business.

8.c. Implement guidelines for fee waivers and deferrals (e.g. impact fees, development review fees, building permit fees, and others). Target date: 2016, ongoing.

City: Partially complete. The PAD allows for impact fee waivers, according to Myers. However, more general guidelines might not exist and are not currently under development, she said.

County: Complete. Baird said that the county waives up to $40,000 per year (total across the county) in development fees on a first-come, first-serve basis.

8.d. Consider offering direct subsidies to eligible low-income households or developers of affordable housing. Target date: 2017, ongoing.

City: Partially complete. The city gave rent subsidies to certain low-income households as an economic relief program during the pandemic. However, that program has ended, though other local relief programs are still available.

County: Partially complete. Baird said that assured housing funds are purposed for direct subsidies, but those payments are not going out because of a lack of revenue into the fund.

And one more

Item 6.f., “Establish agreements and funding mechanisms for deed restriction administration,” has a target date: 2017-2018 and is assigned to the Grand County assessor as the lead agency.

Debbie Swasey currently holds that office. It is unclear whether the item is complete. Baird said that property tax notices have long delineated between taxes on land versus structures, even before the 2017 plan was adopted.