The rapidly rising demand for more affordable places to live in Utah has nearly depleted the state's main fund for purchasing, building and preserving low-income housing.

With the approval last week of $7.4 million for 13 projects — the fund's single-largest payout that will bring 700 units in the low-income market — the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund has $200,000 to spend between now and mid-2008.

The joint state and federal fund will be replenished by then, but having that much left over with six months left in the fiscal year shows a record level of demand, said loan fund board chairwoman and Midvale Mayor JoAnn B. Seghini.

Governing board members and the state Division of Housing and Community Development Utah sets the unmet need for affordable rental units at 51,000 and climbing — 50 percent higher than in 2007.

Created in 1987, the fund provides "bridge" money in grants and loans to developers statewide who then leverage the money to obtain federal and private equity and tax credits. Most of the apartments and single-family homes built with the funds provide housing for people with disabilities, the homeless and low-to-middle-wage working Utahns, seniors and refugees.

Former Gov. Olene Walker, the fund's namesake, said a telling factor in the demand is the increasing number of teachers, police officers and other workers in the private and public service industries who are obtaining housing through the fund.

"The impact of housing costs on the middle-income folks around the state is pretty clear," Walker said. "People might think that a strong economy would actually reduce the demand, but in fact, housing prices and rents have increased and are fueling the demand."

During the 18 to 24 months it will take for the new projects to come online, the board granted rental assistance voucher money to housing authorities to help underwrite people trying to rent in the meantime. Housing advocates say people are finding little success, particularly in Salt Lake City, where both private and state economic analysts say the rental vacancy rate is running at 0 percent.

The board will continue to approve projects with the condition that expected funding becomes available, said director Gordon Walker. Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. has recommended $1.6 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning in July.

In fiscal year 2007, the fund approved $5.8 million for 713 units. The money leveraged $59 million in federal and private equity and tax credits

creating a total value of $80.9 million.

Projects approved by the fund's governing board last week:

• $131,840 to Portree Properties LLC for the rehabilitation of the historical Newhouse Apartments in Price and Golden Rule Mission in Helper.

• $691,637 to the Kier Corp. for purchase of an existing, 72-unit rental assistance project, the Countryside Apartments in Ogden.

• $606,850 to the Kier Corp. for purchase of the 68-unit Bramblewood Apartments in Ogden, a rental assistance project.

• $1.5 million to the Road Home homeless shelter to renovate a vacant hotel in Salt Lake City for use as permanent housing for the chronically homeless.

• $925,000 to Western Region Nonprofit Housing Corp. to construct a 48-unit apartment complex in Layton.

• $564,000 to LaPorte Group to renovate Piccardy Apartments in Salt Lake City for rent by people with AIDS and developmental disabilities and the homeless.

• $386,600 to LaPorte Group to renovate Peter Pan Apartments in Salt Lake City. Some of the units will be set aside for the homeless and people with developmental disabilities.

• $750,000 to Community Development Inc. to construct Mount Catherine Gardens, 48 affordable housing apartment units in Richfield.

• $323,312 to Horizon Development for construction of 64 affordable twin-home units in Logan.

• $1 million to Western Region Nonprofit Housing Corp. to preserve the Woodside Apartments in Price, a rental assistance project.

• $220,000 to Neighborhood Nonprofit Housing to expand River Park Senior housing in Logan.

• $67,500 to the Salt Lake County Housing Authority to purchase the Transitional Living Center from the Utah Food Bank in Salt Lake City.

• $160,000 to the Habitat for Humanity to build four single-family homes in Summit and Wasatch counties.

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