Wasatch County Exploring New Affordable Housing Program For County Employees

Wasatch County Council is considering a new program to provide affordable housing for essential county employees. The effort may help sheriff’s deputies, public works employees and others obtain housing in the increasingly expensive Heber Valley.

The council heard about the Shared Appreciation Mortgage or SAM program at the county council meeting on February 5th. Wasatch County Assistant County Manager Dustin Grabau explains what the new program would do.

“We’re talking about a shared appreciation mortgage programs for county employees, using the fee in lieu that we generate through development,” Grabau explained. “This program would be an opportunity for us to basically co-own properties with employees, to be able to subsidize the cost of those properties.”

The SAM program would essentially allow Wasatch County to act as a silent, second mortgage owner on a home bought by a county employee. When the home is eventually sold or refinanced the county is owed a share of equity proportionate to the percentage originally contributed by the county. The employee can request that the county contribute anywhere between 5% and 18% towards the home during application.

The SAM program allows employees to choose their home and does not include deed restrictions. There would however be conditions to apply such as full-time employment with Wasatch County, not owning a home in Wasatch County in the past three years, and the ability to pay 3.5% down on a home. Additional program conditions include maintained employment with the county, and property location within 20 miles of the employee’s office.

The loan also cannot exceed the county median home price, which would change year to year. This year the county median home price is around $450,000. Additional details and requirements will be shared at next week’s County Council meeting.

The county acknowledges there is a risk that the co-invested loans could result in losses if there was a significant housing market drop, but the county feels the benefits to the county and its citizens outweigh potential risks.

Councilmember Danny Goode asked if the county had considered a program where the county would own housing to rent to employees, Grabau pointed out that Park City offers a renter program.

“That is certainly an opportunity,” Grabau continued. “I think one disadvantage to that is that you have a lower scale because we would have to outright own a home. In this model, we would be owning up to 20% of a home. So, you could potentially do five times as many issuances. So, our hope is that this is a long-term investment. By hiring employees and them voluntarily participating in this program, we’re giving them the opportunity to be able to live here. We get benefits and they get benefits.”

Grabau said that county-owned rentals could be a good tool in the future for addressing additional employee housing needs, although that type of housing is likely down the road.

Current housing assistance options for qualifying residents offered by the Wasatch County Housing Authority include a down-payment assistance fund. That program provides down-payment assistance loans to first-time homebuyers who live in the county whether they are employed by the county or not.

Councilmember Kendall Crittenden serves on the Housing Authority board. He says he likes the idea of adding the SAM program to help essential employees live in the communities they serve in.

“The Sheriff’s Department we recognize has a problem,” Crittenden said. “Heber Police claim they have a problem for housing for their people, public works, all of them have the same issues. We’ve even talked about some non-County. If this was in place you can go to the school district and say do you want to buy into this? You kick in $200,000 that we now have available to (loan) to two or three potential teachers in the district and that’s who would qualify for your money. You go to Heber Light & Power; you want to kick some in? You go to the hospital that has a need, and other people could buy into it by putting money in to make available for their employees. Just like we make this program available for the County essential employees.”

Crittenden, along with council members Jeff Wade and Spencer Park volunteered to work with Grabau to hash out details and additional conditions in order to implement the program. That was done last week, and the item is slated to return to the county council’s agenda at their February 19th council meeting.

Read the original story at KPCW.org