SALT LAKE CITY — An individual rolled into Salt Lake City last week and began a conversation.
"I just drove into town."
"Where did you stay last night?" I asked.
"In the parking lot," came the answer.
That was to be the plan, at least for a while. Sleep in the car, find a job, find a place. Yet the temperature that night was in the teens and there was no sign of that breaking anytime soon.
This isn't an uncommon story. Salt Lake City attracts folks looking for a fresh start. Some drive in. Some come by bus. Others come with a modest first and last month of rent but no job. Others need that job and then they plan to save enough to pay rent. Some are overcoming poor credit.
The point is, when it comes to finding an affordable place to stay, the most necessary element is that people need help finding it and getting into it. That's the definition of affordable housing; it's a process, not a place. Perhaps a better way to say it is affordable living.
So it was with great interest that the Deseret News published two pieces by reporter Katie McKellar this week both shining a light on housing, er, living.
The first featured Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski touting the successes made in the affordable living space. And there are notable gains.
Consider the progress under both Biskupski and former Mayor Ralph Becker, as reported by McKellar:
• From 2013 to 2015, four mixed-income housing projects were completed, adding 73 affordable units out of a total of 209 units built.
• From 2015 to 2016, four more projects were completed, bringing on 179 new affordable units out of 225.
• From 2016 to 2017, seven new projects were completed, totaling 1,055 units. Out of those, 630 units, about 60 percent, are affordable.
• From 2017 to 2018, five more projects are complete, proposed, or under construction, totaling 903 units, out of which 582 (64 percent) are affordable.
• Planned this year are 17 projects that are either under construction, proposed or in pre-development, totaling 1,592 units, of which 1,057, or 66 percent, are slated to be affordable.
That's noteworthy progress, but it's accompanied by a sobering comment from Chris Parker, executive director of Giv Group, a nonprofit that built a 112-unit Project Open which is providing a chance at affordable living.
"In 10 years, if we keep going at the rate we're currently going with affordable housing, we will have a far wider gap than we do right now. We're not keeping up with even our growth, let alone chipping into the current need."
The second story focuses on the plight of a single neighborhood that surrounds what will be a new homeless resource center. Headlined, "Their street 'swallowed' by homeless center, South Salt Lake neighbors take county buyouts."
The underlying theme of this piece is that housing and shelter solutions cannot be obtained without sacrifice. In this case, many residents of one neighborhood believe the complexion of their neighborhood changed the minute a homeless resource center — a shelter — was selected for 3380 S. 1000 West in Salt Lake County.
As Katie wrote:
"To Ryann Ringel, who until recently owned the 3/4-acre property directly north of the construction site, the new building has more than completely changed what once was a tight-knit neighborhood.
"'It's just swallowed it up,'" Ringel said. "It's gone."
The future homeless resource center looms over Ringel's backyard, where her goats, sheep and chickens still roam freely — for now, but not for much longer.2 comments on this story
The shelter will help change many lives. It has already changed the lives of those in that neighborhood who accepted the county's offer to buy their properties and help them move.
The individual who arrived in Salt Lake City a week ago has made progress. The person has a new job and after a few days in a hotel has a line on a room to rent. But even with these successes it has required sacrifice and help from folks here in Salt Lake City.
The good news is that there are many people in this city willing to help. That, perhaps more than anything else, gives reason to believe affordable living can be obtained.