Over the past week, there’s been a lot of movement to pump tens of millions of dollars — including $55 million at the state level and $6 million from Salt Lake City — toward funding affordable housing and homelessness projects across the state of Utah.
And as winter approaches, a plan is taking shape to ensure at least 340 additional overflow beds will be available to help keep people experiencing homelessness out of the elements.
Last week, state officials put a stamp of approval on the nearly $55 million to fund 1,078 total affordable units, including 529 units for the homeless, across the state. This week, Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall proposed $6 million in grants for 400 units of transitional and supportive housing — all to be built by April.
While months of work, dating back to the 2022 Utah Legislative session, paved the way for these efforts, something felt different.
It wasn’t just Utah’s capital city, the city that for years carried an outsized burden of homeless services compared to cities across the state, that was stepping up. Officials across all levels of government — city, county, state — agreed on one message: This isn’t a city problem. It’s a statewide problem.
Representing the state, Utah Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser joined Mendenhall and members of the Salt Lake City Council, as well as Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, in a news conference on Tuesday to announce the investments. The gathering also showcased the multi-level government commitment to the issue.
“I can’t tell you how transitional of a sea change it feels to not stand alone at a microphone to talk about homelessness,” Mendenhall told the council later Tuesday evening, after the press event. “We all agree what we need to do together on this issue today. ... We’re in the midst of change, recognizing the shared responsibility of it.”
Amid high mortgage rates and stubbornly high housing prices, Utah’s housing affordability crisis is at an all-time high. That naturally has an impact on the state’s homeless population, which increased 14% in 2021. As inflation continues to trouble the U.S. economy and as housing affordability and availability issues persist across the nation, it’s an issue that’s indeed larger than Utah — but also one that Utah’s leaders cannot ignore.
While Mendenhall and others agree the efforts announced over the past week won’t fully solve the daunting housing and homeless problems facing the state, they say these investments are significant steps — and steps that are being taken with unprecedented levels of collaboration.
“We haven’t had anything like this before,” Niederhauser said Tuesday. “It takes a partnership like you see today between state and local governments to make this kind of thing happen.”
So what steps, exactly, are being taken? Let’s break it down:
What affordable housing projects will the $55 million fund?
It wasn’t the $128 million that Gov. Spencer Cox proposed in his budget recommendation for homelessness and housing programs, but the $55 million the 2022 Utah Legislature set aside for affordable housing projects this year was still an unprecedented amount.
Last week, the Utah Homelessness Council voted unanimously to allocate the $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward specific projects — projects that rose to the top of a list of applications totaling $168 million that offer both housing and service plans.
Through a competitive grant process, state officials selected what projects would be funded based on how many affordable units the project would create, how many would be dedicated to homeless individuals, how quickly the units would be built, how robust each project’s homeless service plan would be and if their budgets seemed reasonable.
In total, the 17 projects funded located in counties across the state are slated to bring on 1,078 income restricted, affordable units. Of those, 679 will be “deeply” affordable, for people who earn about 30% or 40% below the median area income. The other 529 will be dedicated for people experiencing homelessness.
Here are the projects, according to the Utah Homelessness Council’s approved funding list:
- $10.28 million for Friends of Switchpoint to build The Point Fairpark in Salt Lake City. The plan calls for 94 income-restricted units, including 44 deeply affordable units.
- $9 million for phase two of Pamela’s Place, a supportive housing complex in Salt Lake City. The second phase will include 115 income-restricted units, all deeply affordable, and 69 dedicated to the homeless.
- $6 million for Iron County Care and Share and Canyon Creek services to help purchase an apartment building. The plan calls for 30 income-restricted affordable units, with three dedicated to the homeless.
- $5.27 million for Friends of Switchpoint for The Point Red Hills, a project in southern Utah’s Washington County. The plan calls for 60 income-restricted affordable units, with 24 that will be deeply affordable and 55 for the homeless.
- $5 million to Utah Regional Housing Corp, a nonprofit developer in Utah County for a project called “Multiplex.” The funding list does not specify an additional number of affordable units.
- $4 million to The Other Side Academy for a proposed tiny home village at a roughly 40-acre lot in west-side Salt Lake City at 1850 W. Indiana Ave. The village has not yet been approved by city officials, but is making its way through the planning process.
- $3.85 million for Ville 1659, a project to convert the Ramada hotel at 1659 W. North Temple in Salt Lake City for 197 income-restricted units, including 100 dedicated to the homeless. The hotel last winter served as a temporary overflow shelter.
- $2 million to the Salvation Army at 2615 Grant Avenue in Ogden to fund 53 income-restricted units.
- $1.29 million for the Weber Housing Authority for 33 income-restricted units at 2325 Madison Avenue in Ogden.
- $1 million to the group TWG for a new apartment building at 152 W. 4250 South in Murray. The plan calls for 40 income-restricted units, including five deeply affordable units and five dedicated to the homeless.
- $1 million to TWG for another project at 2150 S. 1100 West in West Haven. The plan calls for 40 deeply affordable units, with 20 dedicated to the homeless.
- $1 million to Ville 647, an old Motel 6 at 647 S. Main Street in Richfield for affordable housing units. The plan calls for 40 income-restricted units, including 20 dedicated to the homeless.
- $990,000 to 85 North Apartments in Provo, managed by Utah Regional Housing Corporation in Utah County. The plan promises 19 income-restricted units, including six deeply affordable units and 12 units dedicated to the homeless.
- $800,000 to nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Utah for a project at 4101 S. Howick in Millcreek with 150 income-restricted units, including 11 deeply affordable and 11 for the homeless.
- $780,000 to BlueLine Development, Inc. for a project called Stratford Apartments in Salt Lake City. The plan calls for 46 income-restricted units.
- $500,000 to Community Development Corporation of Utah for Richmond Flats, a project in Salt Lake City that will include 55 income-restricted units, including five deeply affordable units and 5 units dedicated to the homeless.
- $500,000 to Friends of Weber Housing Authority for a project at 912 Wall Avenue in Ogden. The plan calls for 46 income-restricted units, including nine deeply affordable and 18 dedicated to the homeless.
Salt Lake City’s $6 million for 400 units by April
Mendenhall and her director of homeless policy and outreach, Andrew Johnston, are asking the Salt Lake City Council to consider approving $6 million in capital improvement funds to fund a series of grants meant to help fund projects that could quickly convert properties into transitional and permanent supportive housing by next spring.
“It’s the largest single-year increase in permanent and transitional housing in the city’s history,” Mendenhall said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We are making this happen. Not one of us. All of us, together.”
The projects that would be eligible for these grants haven’t been selected, given the grants themselves haven’t been approved, but Johnston told the Deseret News/KSL editorial boards on Wednesday the type of projects that would likely meet the ambitious timeline would involve converted motels.
“This $6 million, if approved by our council, would combine with affordable housing investments already pledged by the state and by Salt Lake County to bolster what we know is needed most, which is permanent housing for people,” Mendenhall said.
The grants would not exceed $2.5 million per applicant, according to city documents, with the aim of having the projects completed by the time winter overflow shelters shutter next spring.
The hope, Mendenhall told the council on Tuesday, is to help house at least some of the chronically homeless population as well as “those who say ‘no’ to congregate (homeless shelters) and end up staying on the streets through winter.”
Mendenhall told the Deseret News the $6 million grant and 400 permanent supportive and transitional housing units would be a “phenomenal step forward.” She said it’s a “much better place to be” than simply discussing 400 shelter beds.
“Because it acknowledges that there has been since the downtown (Road Home) shelter closed in 2019, a deficiency in the system,” Mendenhall said, while also giving a nod to the Utah Homelessness Council’s list of approved projects last week.
Since the downtown Road Home shelter’s closure, the three new homeless resource centers meant to replace it have operated at or near capacity essentially since their opening. While the centers’ goal was to help divert people experiencing homelessness away from shelter, a key missing piece all along has been housing options, the mayor said.
Salt Lake City Council members received Mendenhall’s proposal warmly. The council is expected to consider voting on the grant request in coming weeks.