A proposed development that would create 536 much-needed units of housing for University of Utah students comes with an added bonus: Rent paid to Ivory University House will be donated into a new scholarship fund for U. students.

The project will be located on 5.4 acres at 1780 E. South Campus Drive, the current site of a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Attorney Scott Bates, who presented the project to the commission, said the church “agreed to demolish an existing functioning chapel” and lease the land to the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation for 100 years “to enable this project to help students.”

Bates said the public-private partnership, which also includes the U. and Salt Lake City, will help “meet the critical needs of student housing near campus and also, it creates an innovative model to fund scholarships for tens of thousands of students over the next century.”

Bates, a U. alum, said he’s been involved in many exciting projects working in real estate law and development, which included renovation of the Utah Jazz arena.

“But this one has been the most gratifying project because of the social impact that it will have,” he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel near the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Ivory Homes will partner with the university and others to develop a 536-unit student housing project on the location. Net proceeds from Ivory University House will be donated to a new scholarship fund. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The development will further the work of the Ivory Foundation, which funds scholarships for needy students and works to address housing shortages and affordability, he said.

“The Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation’s main focus is impacting and lifting the individual. We are excited about the potential for Ivory University House, as it will provide thousands of individual scholarships during its lifetime. We need more public/private partnerships like this to marshal resources that will create positive social impact,” Clark Ivory said in a statement.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the Ivory University House project Wednesday, which will require rezoning the parcel from institutional use to residential-mixed use. The commission gave the project a favorable recommendation and forwarded the proposal to the City Council for its consideration.

According to city planning documents, there were only 3,300 student housing units on or near the U. campus in 2014, while the university’s enrollment was 32,000 students.

As of June, the university had waiting lists of 695 first-year students and 500 upper-level students who want on-campus housing, according to the petitioners’ presentation to the planning commission.

Lori McDonald, the U.’s vice president for student affairs, said the university is experiencing “a tremendous increase in demand for student housing. We have more students coming to the university and applying, and this year we opened a 900-bed residence hall and it’s completely full and we have a waitlist.

“This year we experienced a waitlist of over 1,000, which we have not had before so we do know demand is growing and welcome opportunities for students to be close to campus in addition to our plans for expanding housing,” she said.

The student complex will include four buildings four to five stories in height with a “single living focus.” Each building will include community rooms, classrooms and outdoor study areas.

Each resident will have their own single-occupancy unit, which should help students concentrate on their studies and have more control of their living environment. Each unit will have its own bathroom, bedroom space, and students will have the option of a kitchen or kitchenette.

A rendering depicts the layout and landscaping of the proposed Ivory University House near the University of Utah. The project would house 536 much-needed units of housing for University of Utah students near campus. | Ivory Homes

Single occupancy will eliminate “roommate drama,” said project manager Ashley Hadfield.

“I think we can all talk about from our college days of having student roommate drama, and this allows the students to create their own healthy environment in which they can kind of control what comes in and out while being able to go out into the hallways in the common areas and without being able to have that face-to-face, engagement,” Hadfield said.

Student safety was another driving factor in the design, she said.

“Our building has a three-point check entrance, so this allows us to make sure that people are getting in who need to be in and keeping people out who aren’t supposed to be there,” she said.

The complex, to be developed on private land owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leased to the Ivory Foundation, will have on-site security, she said. The housing will not be managed by University Housing and Residential Education.

The parcel is bordered by Mario Capecchi Drive and South Campus Drive.

The presentation to the planning commission included this statement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: “Education opportunities are extremely important to both individuals and society as a whole. The Church is pleased to participate in this project, which will benefit academically-focused University of Utah students, with off-campus housing and future scholarships.”

Housing insecurity

Between rapidly rising rents and a dearth of affordable housing in Salt Lake County, college students are finding it increasingly difficult to afford a place to live while they go to school. Public colleges and universities are attempting to respond to the need by developing student housing, some for the very first time.

Earlier this year, the Utah Board of Higher Education approved Salt Lake Community College’s plans to develop its first on-campus student housing through a proposed public-private partnership.

SLCC’s proposal contemplated 350 beds in apartment-style units on its Taylorsville campus.

Student housing at SLCC? Higher ed officials greenlight plan

“More and more we’re hearing from our students that they’re insecure around housing, that they’re insecure around food accessibility, that they’re looking for affordable housing. Sometimes we hear from students that their home environment is not the best place for them to be really engaged in college. There’s a lot of things pulling at them in terms of their focus in college,” SLCC President Deneece Huftalin said at the time.

Escalating rents

Rents in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area rose nearly 5% between March 2020 and March 2021, according to a report by Stessa.com. The median cost of rent went from $1,384 a month to $1,451 a month a year later.

Salt Lake County’s rental rates rose 78% between 2000 and 2018, according to a Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute report released in June 2019.

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As rents climb, 1 in 5 Utah renters are considered “severely cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than half of their income on rent, according to state and federal data.

Student success

National research shows students who live on campus have higher grade-point averages and are more likely to complete their degrees or certificate programs, which suggests even greater benefits to developing more student housing.

Record number of first-year U. students elect to live on campus this fall

Data presented to the University of Utah Board of Trustees in 2017 confirmed that U. students who lived on campus had higher grade-point averages throughout their college careers than peers who lived off campus.

Moreover, students who lived on campus were 12% more likely to complete their college degrees.

The U.’s Interim President, Dr. Michael Good, said that the university is on a growth trajectory and experiencing high demand for a college experience that includes living on campus.

“We recognize a need for affordable housing options that fit the backgrounds, values and lifestyles of a wide variety of students. We also know that living on campus boosts our students’ degree completion success. We fully support this project and look forward to more housing options on campus,” Good said in a statement.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the project manager of Ivory University House as Kelsey Lindquist. The project manager is actually Ashley Hadfield. Lindquist is a senior planner for Salt Lake City.