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Salt Lake City mulls State St. housing for poor

SHARE Salt Lake City mulls State St. housing for poor

The city wants to make sure State Street redevelopment doesn't wipe out low-income and transitional housing downtown.

Preparations are under way for renovation of the area between 200 South and 300 South on State, and part of the discussion by the city's Redevelopment Agency is what to do with three hotel buildings, known as single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, that the city owns there.

Those hotels — the Salt Lake Blue, the Cambridge and the Regis — provide housing for low-income residents. Some of the hotel rooms are transitional housing units run by a nonprofit group to help specific populations, such as homeless adults.

Salt Lake Blue closed in 2005 because of its poor condition. The RDA currently offers about 120 rooms in the Cambridge and Regis.

The City Council, which acts as the RDA's board of directors, on Thursday discussed four possible options for ensuring that type of housing is still available once the redevelopment gets going.

The first option would be for the RDA to buy an existing hotel in the city and convert it into low-income housing. That would allow for a relatively quick changeover so the State Street work could begin sooner, but it would also mean the RDA would spend money it would unlikely recoup. It would also depend on the availability of such hotels to buy.

The second option would be to require the developer of the State Street block to include single-room occupancy housing in its new development. But RDA staff worry the cost of that option might scare away some potential developers.

"Would we even get any nibbles?" Councilman Dave Buhler asked. RDA staff said they have heard from a few developers who would be open to the idea.

Buhler made a motion that the city put out a request for bids based on this option to see what kind of response it receives, while keeping the other options open. It was approved unanimously.

A third option would be for the RDA to buy land in the city and build new SRO housing. Under that option, the RDA would have greater control over the time frame, location and design. But it would likely be the most expensive option and would be dependent on the ability of the city to find reasonably priced land close to services like transit.

The fourth option would be a phased-in replacement of SRO units, finding a new location — either in an existing building or a new one — for about 70 to 90 units so residents can begin to be relocated and the State Street work can begin sooner. The remaining units would be worked out later.

Mayor Rocky Anderson suggested the city might be able to offer residents loans to help them transition into their new housing, an idea Councilman Van Turner praised.

But Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said that while she acknowledges the hotels will one day be replaced by new development, the residents she knows who live there do not share the council's opinions that the buildings are too run-down.

"They don't want to live anywhere else," she said. "It's their home. They've lived there for a long, long time."

The city has yet to choose a developer for the State Street work.

E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com