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Summit County Councilor decries NIMBY-ism, racism, fear of affordable housing

2021 - County Council - Doug Web-2.jpg
Photo by Bailey Edelstein
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Courtesy of Summit County
Summit County Councilor Doug Clyde

Summit County Councilor Doug Clyde recently had some choice words about the local workforce housing shortage. He said mindsets have to change and that equity, rather than racism or NIMBY-ism, should be at the center of the conversation.

Wedged between new bylaws for a fire district and a proclamation recognizing a long-time employee, the Summit County Council earlier this month was scheduled for what seemed like a run-of-the-mill discussion about its plans for the year.

Instead, the county’s work plan, particularly its section on housing, elicited unusually passionate comments from Councilor Doug Clyde.

“I want to make this abundantly clear. You cannot talk about social equity without including a robust affordable housing plan,” Clyde said. “Because all you are doing at that point is saying, we're putting a bunch of brown people on the bus, they're going to come work for us, but they're not going to be part of our community.”

Clyde went on to talk about the importance of integration — that affordable and workforce housing should not be segregated from the rest of the community. He shared a story about a friend who suggested a new affordable housing project would lead to crime.

“It was a gut punch that I could hardly even imagine. When we were talking about workforce housing in the Kimball Junction area, a 40-year-old friend of mine called me up and said, ‘I am concerned about my personal safety.’ That is the way most white people look at workforce housing,” Clyde said.

In a subsequent interview, Clyde said racism and NIMBY-ism — an acronym for “not in my backyard” — were two factors that stand in the way of affordable housing projects. It’s a point he made to his fellow councilors, as well, at their Feb. 2 meeting.

“Why are they concerned about safety? Because we're going to let non-white people move into our neighborhood,” Clyde said. “And I’m tired of it. I’m really tired of it.”

The county plans to empanel a Blue Ribbon commission to study affordable housing in 2022. Clyde said equity should be at the center of those discussions.

One firm that's already building workforce housing in Summit County is the local nonprofit Mountainlands Community Housing Trust. Its executive director Pat Matheson agreed that social equity and affordable housing are inextricably linked.

He said ignoring the housing challenges that people face essentially ignores the people themselves. He said he sometimes faces that at public hearings for Mountainlands projects.

“Probably the most common occurrence is that people, they're in opposition to a project. And they haven't sort of retrospectively thought about why they might be in opposition to it, but they just, on its face, are in opposition to it,” Matheson said. “And so they haven't sort of interrogated in their own mind, ‘Boy, … is this from an unjustified stereotype that I have?’”

Matheson said sometimes people come right out and say that they oppose affordable housing projects because they might bring crime. Others might couch their opposition in topics that are often raised in development talks like traffic, water and congestion.

Many people say they’re in favor of affordable housing, he said, but don’t think locations near them are the right choice.

“We were in a public hearing in Heber City one time for a project that we're building right now. And we had some neighbors who had concerns and said that they were worried about safety because we were going to build affordable housing next to their existing neighborhood,” Matheson said. “The police officer in attendance at that meeting actually stood up and gave public comment and said, ‘Look, I respond to calls all day long, and it doesn't just come from one neighborhood.'”

Clyde said he hoped his comments inform the county’s commitment to providing workforce housing, which he said was critical for a complete community. He said it should be kept in mind when the county considers projects for areas it has identified as locations for mixed-use developments, including Kimball Junction.

“Everyone as a community, as a part of this community, has to work hard on this issue. And that includes myself,” Clyde said.

Matheson said Mountainlands recently received a certificate of occupancy for a 16-unit affordable apartment building in Silver Creek Village, and is expecting to complete another 24-unit building by the end of this month.