News Article Viewer, Posted: June 3, 2024

Mayor’s Message

Attainable Housing is a Community Effort

My grandparents raised my mother and her 4 siblings in a 1,092 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom red brick home in downtown St George. My grandpa was a barber and a government trapper, so the single-width carport for his 1966 Ford Bronco ½ Cab, and the shed out back for coyote and bobcat pelts, made the property adequate for the family’s needs.

Some might be surprised to hear that all of their children survived, despite being raised in such a small home, sharing a bedroom and a bathroom. Each went on to successfully buy a home and raise a family of their own here in southern Utah. Homebuyers today, especially first-time buyers,  are faced with an unprecedented cost of ownership, high interest rates, limited supply, and competition from investors and other buyers alike. I’m concerned that the rising generation, including my own children, may not have an opportunity to buy a home here, where they grew up.

Attainable housing is a complicated topic. Many factors impact the ability to build or buy a home. Most of those factors lie outside the control of local government. Government does not set the price of labor and materials nor the price of land. Local government does not set interest rates nor give out home loans.

Still, there are some actions municipalities can take to facilitate home ownership, and I am proud that Washington City is doing its part. The city council has adopted a General Plan that guides land use and zoning. It includes a variety of lot types and sizes for single-family homes. In some areas, the council has approved reduced setback requirements and authorized smaller lot sizes. Further, the city code has been updated to allow for internal and external Accessory Dwelling Units, and for R2 zoning where larger lots can be split into two buildable lots.

Recognizing that housing is a community effort, with the bulk of the responsibility on developers and homebuilders in the private sector, the city has made the zoning and subdivision entitlement process more efficient, allowing for quicker approvals. The city has streamlined systems, reducing the time it takes to get building permits and inspections, having moved these processes completely online. Collectively, these actions save time and money that should be reflected in home prices.

While responding to property owners and respecting property rights, city leadership has strived to maintain a balance in the types and locations of land uses, gradually changing densities and zoning to be considerate of existing residents. Currently, there are some very attractive higher-density single-family home, townhome, and condominium subdivisions which are relatively affordable, yet still offer the reality of home ownership. Let’s face it, communities need a range of housing options that fill the gap often referred to as the “missing middle”, not just the bookends of high-density apartments and low-density million dollar homes.

Cities do not build houses, rather they help shape communities and provide critical services, establishing a platform upon which the private sector is tasked with developing and building housing according to ever-changing market conditions. It’s a hard task, but there is currently a vital need for more affordable homes. We need places for police officers, teachers, construction, healthcare, retail, restaurant workers, and many others to live. These individuals are the backbone of the community, working to make a living and providing the services we all rely on. My young adult children are entering this phase, maybe you, your children or grandchildren can relate.

To developers and homebuilders: Now is the time for you to do all you can to help build a community that is much more than rental properties, second homes, vacation rentals, and estates. Consider your critical role in building up our community by intentionally building more single family homes for first-time buyers so that future generations can attain ownership and thrive.

-Kress Staheli


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