Payson Must Embrace Work Force Housing

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Something's wrong.

It's getting so that not even teachers and police officers can afford a home in Payson, where the average home now costs $325,000.

Something's wrong.

That's not the sort of community that many people will want to, or can afford to live in.

And it is not the kind of community Payson has been.

But it is what we are likely to become, without a sustained commitment to provide housing working people can afford.

The Town Council has at least grappled with the issue, setting up a Housing Advisory Commission and exploring ways to ensure that the new development that keeps driving up the cost of housing makes some contribution to ensuring a balanced community.

The town has collected about a million dollars worth of pledges from developers to help provide low-cost -- or at least middle-cost housing. Moreover, the town continues to seek federal funds for rehab programs to help lower-income residents and recently pushed through nearly 100 units of low-cost apartments -- mostly aimed at low-income seniors.

Unfortunately, the housing slump has stalled many of those efforts and cast a shadow even across previous commitments.

We have several concerns about recent trends.

First, we don't believe that new development should be burdened with solving the community's existing problems. The town already imposes about $15,000 in fees on each new unit of housing -- which certainly contributes to the challenge of providing work-force housing. Imposing another $500 to $1,000 per unit in "voluntary" contributions to work-force housing won't solve the problem.

In truth, the town council must make hard choices that might upset some residents. We want the people teaching our children to live in the community they serve, even if they're only making $35,000 a year.

That means higher density housing.

That means loan programs for certain types of buyers.

That means aggressively pursuing grants.

And that also means standing up to the neighborhood groups that will inevitably come down to town hall and complain about traffic and density and apartments and townhouses and everything except the $700,000 house on a one-acre lot.

Councilor Andy Romance, at the last council meeting, put it succinctly, when he said that a council that makes policy based on the angry people in the room is imposing a form of "mob rule" on town policy.

So we applaud the efforts the town has made to consider the issue of work-force housing.

But we urge the councilors to not flinch when housing slumps and protesters pound the podium -- and to not let this vital issue slip, down the list behind streets or gutters or the many other details that create the community we want to live in -- which must surely be a place where teachers and police officers and tow truck drivers and shopkeepers are all our neighbors.

If we can't do that -- then something's wrong.

Way wrong.

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