One council member called it a "pork-barrel project," but the Salt Lake City Council approved another step in a plan to retire a $2.8 million debt during a Salt Lake City Housing Development Corp. meeting Tuesday.
The plan involves buying the Canterbury Apartments, 1357 N. Morton Dr., as a low and moderate-income housing project. HDC officials say the apartments eventually will produce revenue to help pay off HDC's debt, discovered in 1987.HDC is an private corporation that shares the city's triple A bond rating and was set up to build low-income housing. The city is helping the agency to retire its debt to protect its high bond rating.
But in an attempt to meet demands by residents and neighbors of the complex, the city agreed to spend $150,000 to build a park near the apartments - a park residents say they were promised and city officials say is badly needed.
Council Chairman Tom Godfrey called the park arrangement a "pork barrel project" reminiscent of the kinds of deals cut in the U.S. Congress. The park would be built at 21st W. 10th North, in District 1, Councilwoman Florence Bittner's district.
Godfrey said he supported buying the apartments but not spending funds on the park. "It's $150,000 that we are increasing the HDC debt. That to me doesn't seem so fiscally sound," he said.
But Bittner said that without the park, the plan to buy the apartments had a "Popsicle's chance in hell" in her district, where constituents are opposed to low-income housing nearby. The park, however, made the plan more palatable.
"If that's a pork barrel project, so be it. I see it as a negotiated compromise," she said.
The council voted 6-1 to apply for a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with Godfrey casting the sole "no" vote.
The loan money will be used to purchase the apartment building, the ownership and management of which will be turned over to the city's Redevelopment Agency.
Approval of the application means the city can apply for the loan, which HDC project manager Dan Franks said the city will repay in five to six years with $300,000 in yearly federal Community Block Grant Development funds.
The council already approved the allocation of $300,000 in CDBG funds this year to go toward the loan. Future councils must approve subsequent CDBG funds for repaying the loan.
Purchase of the Canterbury Apartments is one facet of a larger plan to retire the HDC's debt. HDC also is negotiating to buy the Ben Albert Apartments, 130 S. Fifth East, which also could generate revenue to help retire the debt.
In September, the council used $300,000 in unspent CDBG funds to purchase the Ben Albert Apartments. In October, HUD approved $500,000 in discretionary funds for the city to use for the apartments. The city is now applying for that money.
Additionally, the HDC plans to use $864,000 of its own money, for a total of $1.6 million, for the Ben Albert Apartments, Franks said.
After paying off the $1.8 million federal loan, $151,000 in yearly profit from Canterbury Apartments would go toward the HDC debt.