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Low-income advocates frustrated by empty homes

Low-income advocates are frustrated that 25 Salt Lake City Housing Authority properties have been sitting empty for about a year.

The housing authority has been trying to sell the properties that once housed about 100 people but the process has been tied up in bureaucratic maneuverings. Proceeds from the sale are supposed to provide additional Section 8 vouchers to help low-income residents — including those evicted because of the sales — with rent payments elsewhere.

But critics question leaving the homes empty at a time when Utah is struggling with high rates of homelessness and struggling families. Tim Funk, with the Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit that helps low-income Utahns, says the sale of housing authority properties is making an already difficult situation worse for those involved.

"This is the worst situation, the most prolonged and agonizing eviction of any group I've ever had to deal with," Funk said.

Bill Nighswonger, the housing authority's executive director, said they hadn't anticipated how long it would take to get the sales going, especially the process of subdividing the land.

But as the homes now go to the market, there will be a benefit for low-income families and local neighborhoods, he said.

"This is affordable housing for sale to the public," he said. "It's a great opportunity."

The former tenants were not put on the street. They were given Section 8 vouchers for wherever they went as part of a large increase touted by the housing authority, officials said.

The sales are part of a larger sell-off that included more than 91 properties. Earlier sales generated more than $17 million for the housing authority, although some criticized the sales for eliminating dozens of homes for the poor.

As part of an agreement with the federal government, the authority got hundreds of additional Section 8 vouchers.

Proceeds from the sales will help fund future building projects, including several that will eventually house low-income seniors.