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Rocky wants homeless block vetted

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Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson wants it all out on the table.

Rumors, speculation and even specific details of the Salt Lake Chamber's proposed homeless block have been quietly dividing the city, Anderson maintains, and only a public vetting of the plan can quell the contention.

After meeting with proponents and opponents of the Chamber plan Wednesday, Anderson has created a special community meeting Monday, Oct. 25, at 5 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 451 S. State St., where all interested parties and the public can gain and give information about the proposal and related concerns.

"This has been a very divisive issue," Anderson said. "Both the proposal and the process . . . everyone will be better serviced by an open and inclusive dialogue particularly because I think we all fundamentally want the same thing."

The chamber's plan was first introduced on Sept. 2 as Zions Bank President Scott Anderson and Mark Howell, Wells Fargo president of middle market business, detailed their idea to homeless providers, including the Road Home, Catholic Community Services and the Fourth Street Clinic.

Under the concept, Catholic Community Services, the Road Home and the Fourth Street Clinic would be relocated to one of two sites a few blocks south of their current digs near 500 South and 400 West or on 700 South near 700 West, according to a report from Road Home executive director Matt Minkevitch.

At this new block-big campus, the three providers, possibly other homeless services, and 75 units of "first step" transitional housing would be built. The current site of the Road Home and Catholic Community Services would then be turned into 150 units of mixed-income housing and retail space. Some income generated by this development would then go to help fund homeless services, according to the report.

The estimated cost of the plan is $48.3 million — paid for by a litany of sources, including taxpayer funds like Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency dollars and federal and state housing funds. And some have questioned whether the non-public funding can realistically be obtained.

Much has been speculated about the motive behind the proposal, which would clear homeless providers out of their expensive addresses near The Gateway shopping mall to less costly areas of town.

"There is a healthy suspicion among some of us, and I can only speak for us at Crossroads, that this is part of an effort to relocate services away from The Gateway," said Glenn Bailey, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center. "There certainly is pressure on those facilities given the development of the area."

Moreover, Bailey and Mayor Anderson agree, $48 million would probably be better spent building more affordable housing rather than moving homeless services a couple blocks. A $48 million investment in low-income housing could go a long way toward curbing homelessness in Salt Lake City, Bailey notes.

There has also been some fear on the part of homeless service providers that if they don't go along with the plan they will lose key funding from groups like Zions Bank and United Way, which both have close ties to the Chamber.

But Chamber leaders have denied those fears are valid. Byron Russell, who is heading up the Chamber's culture block plan, told the City Council last month that the Chamber's homeless proposal was merely an offer and if the homeless service providers didn't want it, then the Chamber would drop it.

Mayor Anderson said Wednesday that he feels the motivation behind the plan is that local banks, which belong to the Chamber, would like to use Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds to help the homeless community.

By federal law, banks have to use such funds to help blighted areas, however, those funds have to be invested in ways that will make a profit.

By moving the homeless providers, the land they currently occupy could be turned into a housing development, which would turn a profit, thus meet CRA rules and allowing the banks to use CRA funds to further invest in homeless services.

"I think the motive is to find a way to bring in CRA funding to expand the (homeless) services provided," Mayor Anderson said, adding "of everyone I've talked to about this I have tremendous respect for all of them."

Still, the mayor has significant issues with the plan, including the notion that it will move the homeless further away from the public view, divert funding from housing and violate an agreement the City Council unanimously approved last year, with homeless providers stating that the city wanted its homeless services to remain where they are.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com