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Partisan Housing – Wilf Sommerkorn

October 20, 2020 by admin
Policy/Legislative

As you may know, I’ve been writing a fair bit about the issue of housing affordability, and the push for zoning reform that has been going on around the country.  I’ve been watching and wondering if this level of activism would find its way to Utah, particularly as there has been a growing movement at the legislative level about this issue the last couple of years that has resulted in such actions as SB34, SB39, and a few other bills, and the creation of the state Commission on Housing Affordability.  So far, actions have been pretty moderate.

I just recently ran across a particularly strong reaction by one of our state legislators to this issue, and maybe not in the way you might expect (or maybe it is completely expected, I guess it depends on your perspective).

Rep. Kim Coleman, who has opined on this topic in somewhat disjointed ways over the last several months, has her own video podcast called Candidly Kim, which she started during her recent run for the 4th District Congressional seat (from which she was eliminated in the primary).  Because of this run, she will not be in the legislature next year, but she still has a couple of interim meetings to go, and could make some noise before she goes.  Watch her podcast, Democrats are trying to kill our communities and some utah republicans are getting wealthy helping them

Rep. Coleman appears to view efforts to allow for more housing choice as a way to address housing affordability as entirely left-wing “conspiracy”, but one in which the conservative building industry is complicit.  After listening to her rationale, it appears that she thinks the housing affordability crisis is the result of builders no longer wanting to build single-family homes but instead concentrate on more lucrative high-density housing.  They are thus partnering with left-wing radicals who hate the suburbs and are getting federal (and now state) policies changed to eliminate single-family zoning and only build high-density “crap”.  The implications to me of her comments are that the way to solve the problem is to build what “everyone” wants, lots more single-family housing.  Viola! Problem solved!

In her video podcast, she has a conversation with Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow a the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who recently wrote a piece in the National Review called Biden and the Dems Are Set to Abolish the Suburbs, which reportedly set off Pres. Donald Trump to pull back the Obama administration Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation, and his claims to have “saved the suburbs.”  A pretty good critique of the Kurtz piece was written by Chuck Mahron, though his ultimate conclusion is rather debatable, which is to do away with single-family zoning (this topic and how it relates to what’s going on in Utah, and what should happen in Utah, will be the subject of the fourth session of this year’s Utah Land Use Law Conference on Nov. 12.  I’ll be moderating.  Prof. Arnab Chakraborty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne has just been added to the panel.  He recently wrote a piece on this topic in the Journal of the American Planning Association).

It’s just so indicative of the times we’re in, and so unfortunate, that all kinds of issues, including this one, are being turned into partisan political fights.  There are real problems out there, like affordable housing, that need real, reasoned discussion, not extreme rhetoric and tribalism.  Hoping we can make a difference with this session, and in the upcoming legislative session!

Wilf Sommerkorn

Co-Chair, APA Utah Legislative Committee