SALT LAKE CITY — Richard Carpenter grew up struggling with homelessness.
As a child, Carpenter lived with his mother in a van, he said.
But three months ago, he was granted the opportunity to leave homelessness in his past.
Carpenter now lives in his own 600-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Salt Lake City thanks to one of The Road Home's affordable housing programs. Under the program, his rent for the first three months was paid, and he's now receiving services to help him find work and get on track to live independently.
"I've got a roof over my head, and that's what matters," Carpenter said.
That sentiment and a drive to prevent homelessness in Salt Lake City brought city leaders together Wednesday at the Salt Lake City-County Building to announce new grant opportunities aimed at addressing affordable housing challenges in Utah's capital city.
Mayor Ralph Becker joined Wells Fargo regional president Dee O'Donnell to present $300,000 to The Road Home and $200,000 to the Community Foundation of Utah through Wells Fargo's NeighborhoodLIFT program.
Becker said the grants will help the city make "great strides" in achieving its 5000 Doors initiative, which aims to add and preserve 5,000 units of affordable housing in the city over the next five years. The city launched the initiative after a 2013 housing study revealed an 8,200-unit gap in Salt Lake's available units.
"We have extremely low vacancy rates in the city, and the demand for quality urban living is very high," Becker said. "Our multi-family building permits are at an all-time high in the city, and market rates for these units have grown year after year and have far outpaced personal income growth.
"As our city continues to experience this fabulous growth and increased vibrancy, it's critical that access to housing for residents is not limited (by) income challenges," the mayor said.
The grants will help fund a program developed with The Road Home to create 20 new housing units for the top 20 most vulnerable homeless city residents, Becker said. Also, the mayor recommended in his budget this year additional funding for the city's housing trust fund to support the Housing 20 program for the next two years.
"We've recommended that our Salt Lake housing trust fund match the funds raised, with a goal of raising $1 million for this effort," Becker said.
Secondly, the grants will fund an affordable housing rental subsidy program as part of the NeighborhoodLIFT program, which will help subsidize new development of multi-family housing for low wage earners.
So far, Wells Fargo has donated more than $1.6 million in down-payment assistance to help people buy more than 111 homes in Salt Lake, O'Donnell said.
"This is (about) working together as community stewards, as business leaders and as volunteers," she said. "With small steps come huge impacts, and we're so delighted about these grant recipients today and the work they're going to do to help prevent homelessness in Salt Lake City."
Alexandra Eaton, executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah, and Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, expressed gratitude for the grants.
"This is a very wise investment," Minkevitch said. "Those dollars will be spent locally and will support local jobs, landlords and help the most desperate people get off the street."
In partnership with the 5000 Doors initiative, Giv Group co-founder and developer Chris Parker built the North Sixth apartment complex in Salt Lake, where he said residents of all income levels live — from people emerging from homelessness, to people with law degrees.
Parker said the complex, which provides 89 affordable housing units, was completed at the end of last year, filled quickly, and now bears a heavy waiting list.
"There's nothing quite like seeing someone cry when they sign a lease," Parker said, referring to low-income residents now living in his complex who recently overcome homelessness. "It's a powerful moment."
Carpenter said while he thinks the city's current affordable housing projects are not an "end-all" solution to the city's homeless issues, he said he was grateful to hear of the new grants.
"It definitely gives me a little more hope in humanity and this community," Carpenter said. "It makes me glad I decided to make this place my home."