Once again, the Provo City Council has told another body how to conduct its business.

Last time it was the Provo School District and Fox Field. This time the council has meddled with Brigham Young University and its plan to build married student apartments.In both cases, after council members complained, plans were changed.

The school board's plans to lease some of Fox Field to owners of a nearby medical plaza were dropped. BYU will build 80 rather than 136 apartment units.

Apparently, when the Provo City Council speaks, people listen. Unfortunately it's not clear that the council always speaks for the good of the community.

For nearly two years various agencies and task forces in the county have bemoaned a critical housing shortage in Utah County.

Despite all the rhetoric, little has been done to ease the shortage.

In the past two years a total of 275 units have been added to the rental pool for married and single people in Provo. According to Gene Carly, director of the Utah County Housing Authority, 200 units should be built annually to keep pace with the demand for housing.

The Provo City Council - with four of its seven members involved in real estate, contracting and/or ownership of rental units - thinks that task should be left solely to private developers. Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins, who was a developer before he became mayor, says it takes time for the private sector to respond; money's tight.

Which is precisely why the council's reasoning is so off-base.

Low-income families in particular need affordable housing in Utah County. That's precisely the market segment BYU planned to address with its 136-unit married student apartment project.

It's also the market segment developers aren't rushing to build for - particularly when faced with tight-fisted banks. Both Jenkins and Planning Commission Chairman Scott Ward acknowledge that.

It's also precisely the market that generates "not in my back yard" sentiment.

With 1,000 families on each of two waiting lists, BYU's 80 rental units - even 136 units - will have as much effect on the housing shortage as Scud missiles in the Persian Gulf war. Still, it is a step toward resolving the problem.

The housing shortage in Utah County is likely to be exacerbated before it gets better; businesses are blossoming and word that the county is a pretty great place to live is spreading (remember Provo/Orem's ranking in Money Magazine's "Best Places to Live" issue?).

The housing shortage is big enough and complex enough that any effort to solve it should be commended, not castigated, particularly efforts that address a market segment most bureaucrats would rather ignore than deal with. There is plenty of room for developers to jump in, build units and make money.

Not all the wise people in this city sit on the Provo City Council. Other bodies should continue to do their own thinking and then stick to their guns.