SALT LAKE CITY — When Salt Lake City leaders raised sales taxes last year, they promised to spend the new money on public safety, infrastructure, transit and affordable housing.
On Thursday, city officials unveiled a new effort funded with that money to keep people out of shelters.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski presented a $100,000 check to the Road Home to fund a new Shared Housing Program — a program meant to pair people experiencing homelessness to be roommates in homes or apartments with low rents.
The goal? To house a total of 50 people this year and divert them from emergency shelter, Biskupski said at a news conference held at Taylor Gardens Apartments, 1790 S. West Temple, an apartment complex participating in the program.
"That is 50 less people in our shelter, and 50 fewer people we will need to transition through our new resource centers," the mayor said.
Biskupski said thanks to the sales tax hike approved by the City Council last year, "the city now has the resources to invest in the types of programs that will make a difference."
"All of this aligns with our goal to make homelessness rare and temporary," Biskupski said.
The program, the mayor said, "helps fill a gap" in current transitional housing programs, which do not allow roommate situations, creating "a greater strain on our already tight housing market."
The Road Home, over the last two years, has piloted a similar program and has successfully housed 20 roommate pairs, and with the new $100,000 infusion of money from Salt Lake City will expand those efforts, said Matthew Minkevitch, the Road Home's executive director.
"Adding new housing resources is essential," Minkevitch said. "This is one more innovative approach to help our communities preserve what existing affordable housing is still out there and to help people who, without this alternative, would otherwise have to stay in shelter longer."
"I'm encouraged that this program could provide a way out of shelter for people who have employment but whose wages cannot scale the high price of rent," Minkevitch said.
To be eligible for the program, people must be homeless, enrolled in job-training programs or on a fixed income making less than 40 percent of the area median income.
Road Home housing specialists will work with case managers to match people as roommates and seek out affordable housing options from local landlords, said Jeniece Olsen, the Road Home's director of supportive housing services.
Individuals in the program will receive case management, including conflict resolution and mediation services, as well as assistance in purchasing items like locks for doors and mini-fridges, city officials said. The program will also provide landlords funding to ensure their property is maintained and rental income is secure if one roommate chooses to leave.
While hundreds of Utahns experience homelessness at any given day during the year, Olsen said housing 50 people will still make a difference.
"We need a whole suite of housing options for people, and this is just one pathway," she said.
The $100,000 check from the city is a one-time boost. After this year's pilot program, the City Council will decide whether to continue funding it.
City Councilwoman Amy Fowler, who also serves as the city's Redevelopment Agency chairwoman, said the council "made a difficult and politically unpopular decision" to raise sales taxes, but now it's paying off.
"I look at this project as an example," Fowler said. "An example of not only how two people can support each other on a path toward housing stability, but also how our community can support each other in times of need."