MAGNA -- The Rev. Jerald H. Merrill's ministry is found among some 900 units of affordable housing that dot Utah's landscape.

Friends and civic leaders on Friday honored the man who is arguably "the father of affordable housing" by naming a new senior housing complex after the Episcopalian priest.The Jerald H. Merrill Senior Housing, a 30-unit complex at 8923 W. 2700 South, is the third affordable housing project developed in Magna by the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp. Merrill was the nonprofit organization's first executive director. He continues to serve on its board of directors.

The community holds a special place in Merrill's heart. His maternal grandfather, a young Austrian immigrant, labored -- and died -- in a smelter near Magna.

Magna has worked on affordable issues since the late 1960s, at first concentrating on Salt Lake's west side.

"It was very clear to me then that housing was desperately needed on the west side of Salt Lake. When I asked anybody, especially the women, 'What do you need most?' it was always 'a decent place to live, especially when you get old.' "

Then a Catholic priest in the community, Merrill researched the programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A community organization of churches and nonprofit groups was assembled, and Merrill took his dream to HUD.

The group had no land to build on, no money, no collateral and no experience. But they had the vision of Merrill, said John Florez, a long-time friend and himself a community activist.

"My father ended up living at his first project, Escalante Park" located at 1000 N. and Redwood Road, Florez said.

"There were lots of Mexican families there. My father had his little chili and tomato plants there. It made him happy,"

Florez describes Merrill as "a cross between the little engine that could and Thomas Edison."

"He's a brilliant man, very low key. He's a saint as far as I'm concerned."

Merrill said the dedication of the nonprofit organization's first public housing complex is a profound memory.

"I knew practically everyone who lived there. I've never been so loved. All the men hugged me and all the women kissed me. They said this was the best place they ever lived. I knew that was true."

Carl Inoway, former director of the nonprofit housing corporation, said Merrill is probably known throughout the state as "Mr. Utah nonprofit housing."

Inoway, former dean of the University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture, said his relationship with Merrill has spanned more than 25 years.

"He's probably the most gentle person I've ever met. I've never heard him raise his voice. He's very concerned about people, particularly those with lower incomes."

Inoway said he has learned patience from Merrill, who calmly jumped through myriad hoops to develop affordable housing. "He's never been a hyper person. He was willing to let things unfold. He had great faith in God to oversee things."

The Jerald H. Merrill Senior Housing was funded under a HUD program with support from the state and county economic development departments and the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund.

Kier Construction Co., which has worked with Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp. on numerous affordable housing projects, was contractor of the Magna complex. Summit Design is the architect and it will be managed by Western Property Management.

Merrill said it is fitting that affordable housing projects are cooperative efforts among government agencies, lenders and nonprofit agencies.

"Nothing would happen without all these partnerships now. That the way it should be because housing is for everyone."