SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Salt Lake City Council, sitting as the city’s Redevelopment Agency board Tuesday evening, earmarked nearly $30 million for affordable housing and purchase of sites for planned homeless resource centers.
The board voted 6-1 to appropriate, “on an as-needed basis,” nearly $11.8 million for the purchase of land for homeless resource centers in the city.
The City Council previously decided to find locations for four homeless resource centers at scattered locations in the city. One option available to the city under allowed zoning uses would be building on land owned or controlled by the city.
The redevelopment board also voted to place in a holding account more than $17 million to further address the city's affordable housing goals.
Earlier this year, the City Council voted to establish affordable housing as priority issue and announced a $4 million appropriation for that purpose. The appropriation addressed Tuesday would be in addition to the previously announced funding.
There is a need for some 43,000 units of affordable housing statewide, according to state officials. In Salt Lake City itself, experts say more than 7,500 units are needed. The RDA board identified the funds in its current budget and leftover funds from previous years.
“This is a giant step in the right direction. Housing is a critical part of solving homelessness and supporting economic growth. We’re putting our money where our mouths are and tackling it from all sides,” said RDA Chairwoman Lisa Adams, who represents District 7 on the City Council.
The board debated for hours over how much money to devote to both areas, intent on moving forward with plans to create resource centers to serve specific populations experiencing homelessness and find ways to either prevent people from losing their housing or create new options through rental vouchers, partnerships for new development or purchasing property and holding it in trust for future development.
David Litvak, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Jackie Biskupski, asked the board to hold off on making a decision to allow more time to consider additional information.
But RDA board members said it was time to press on with selecting sites for resource centers, which the mayor's office and the council will do jointly and make meaningful strides in addressing the city's need for affordable housing.
Board member Erin Mendenhall, who represents District 5 on the City Council, reminded the RDA board of a briefing by Mike Akerlow, director of the city's Division of Housing and Neighborhood Development, who told the council, "We are not entering a crisis. We are in the housing crisis right now."
Derek Kitchen, District 4 council member, said he was "not willing to go back on progress we made today as a board."
Litvak said he was not asking the board to reconsider its priorities but to wait for more information before acting on the budget amendments that would make the appropriations possible.
Andrew Johnston, the District 2 representative on the City Council, said he was willing to wait a month because if the policy is sound, "what's right today will be right next month." He cast the lone vote against the motion.
But Mendenhall argued that "time is of the essence" because the selection of possible sites for four planned homeless resource centers "will be happening in very short order."
Earlier, the city had contemplated finding locations for two 250-bed homeless resource centers.
But Salt Lake residents balked at the size of the proposed facilities, expressing concern that centers of that size would attract a critical mass of people who congregate in Pioneer Park and near homeless service providers in the area.
Last month, after a marathon meeting among city, county and state officials, it was announced that Salt Lake City will find locations for four small homeless resource centers in the city with a total of 550 beds. The new facilities will be no larger than 150 beds each.
Resource centers serve targeted populations and offer many services on-site.