What’s next for the proposed tiny home village on Salt Lake City’s west side?

What's next for the proposed tiny home village on Salt Lake City's west side?

A 280-square-foot cottage that will be part of the Other Side Village, providing affordable, permanent housing for people coming out of chronic homelessness, is pictured in Salt Lake City on Aug. 16. It was designed and constructed as part of the University of Utah School of Architecture’s Design + Build Salt Lake program. The first phase of the village will have 60 and eventually grow to 430 tiny homes. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The proposed tiny home village to house Salt Lake City’s chronically homeless is nearing its final steps — but the Salt Lake City Council isn’t quite ready to roll out the welcome mat.

As Salt Lake City continues to struggle with homelessness, the proposed project could house more than 400 chronically homeless individuals. The village was modeled after a tiny home community in Austin, Texas — Community First! Village. The village was visited by Deseret News in August in search of possible long- and short-term solutions for homelessness.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced plans in the spring of 2021 to partner with the Other Side Academy to begin the process of a local tiny home village. The announcement came after a series of working groups to develop a plan that would work in Salt Lake City.

The mayor had hoped to have at least a few homes built before winter arrived but the proposed plan has traveled slowly through the city’s planning process. The project has been nearing its final steps with the latest task being approval from the Salt Lake City Council.

That nod hasn’t proved easy. In a work session last week, the council outlined many questions and concerns regarding the project following a cost-benefit analysis from Mendenhall’s administration.

What are the city’s role and terms in the pilot project?

The Other Side Village has been proposed to be built on a 40-acre lot in west Salt Lake City at 1850 W. Indiana Ave. The land is owned by the city and must be approved by the council for use. The city would enter into a 40-year lease at $1 per year with the Other Side Academy, which plans on covering all costs of remediation for the site, cost of development and operation of the pilot project.

The Salt Lake City Council has been asked to consider approving a zoning amendment for the site and has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 20. The pilot project would be limited to approximately 8 acres while determining the feasibility of the project. The city would be responsible for maintaining and securing the area surrounding the parcels used for the village.

The cost of the pilot project is estimated to be just under $14 million with some of the costs being covered by donations and in-kind work. The Other Side Academy estimates the village will be self-sustaining by 2026 with 10% of revenue coming from rent being paid by the residents, 14% revenue from producing and selling cookies, 41% through the thrift boutique and 35% through the community.

The Other Side Academy has also agreed to offer $1 million in shortfall if revenue is not enough to cover operating costs. If the Other Side Academy fails to follow through on terms in the agreement, the city would have the option to find another operator.

“This is an opportunity to clarify that if that operator cannot perform on what they said they were going to do, the city could step in, take ownership of those structures and improvements and find a new operator and that’s a legal document that we can incorporate into the ground lease,” explained Katie Lewis, Salt Lake City attorney.

But the Salt Lake City Council had concerns regarding a 40-year commitment to a pilot project.

“Is there any magic in that number?” asked Darin Mano, pointing to the projected self-sustainability date of 2026.

Deputy Director of Community Services Tammy Hunsaker admitted that the lease “was kind of a balancing act” to demonstrate the city’s commitment to the project. Other council members wanted to know in exact terms to what the city would be committing.

“I love unicorns, I just want to make sure that we can feed them … Do we have and can we get what those maintenance numbers would look like when we’re looking at improvements?” asked Amy Fowler. “Improvements are wonderful, we all like them, that’s the unicorn. How do we make sure that we have the continued support and money from the city to secure and maintain the unicorn.”

Additional numbers were also requested by Dan Dugan, who wanted to verify the projected revenue and operating costs for the Other Side Village.

“I just would like to make sure that we’re doing a good job of vetting those figures,” said Dugan. “If they’re too optimistic then we’re back to the unicorn, and it’s not going to work. I just want to make sure everyone’s doing this homework problem with their eyes wide open.”

Measuring success

Community First! Village has garnered national attention for its success. But how does one measure the success of a pilot project and what does success look like in Salt Lake City?

“Do we have clear understandings or is that the next step of what we’re hoping to see with these pilots before we feel comfortable moving on?” asked Councilwoman Victoria Petro-Eschler. “There is the usual growing pains that we’re to expect and then there are the red flags that we are getting too far afield and have we clearly delineated.”

Specific indicators to include in the ground lease haven’t been discussed, answered Hunsaker. Three general areas to observe, however, include:

  • Financial success and feasibility — whether the Other Side Village is able to generate revenue and operate without additional subsidies from the city.
  • Impact on homelessness — whether the target population of chronically homeless individuals are successfully being placed in the village and accessing services.
  • Neighborhood impacts — ensuring the surrounding neighborhoods aren’t being adversely affected.

“We haven’t come up with specific benchmarks yet but we definitely can do that and work with (the Other Side Academy) to come up with those,” said Hunsaker.

What about the neighborhoods surrounding the village?

Council members, particularly ones whose district’s reside on the west side or nearby, had concerns regarding the potential impact the village could have.

“I think the concern of many neighbors is that this becomes or it’s similar to some of the issues we see with the resource centers in downtown. If we’re going to be securing the other parcels and they become unsanctioned camping and all the costs associated with that and the impacts to the community — this will be problematic,” said Councilman Alejandro Puy. “It will be a big issue for the west side. We already have quite a bit of these issues every day.”

The security and safety issue was also raised by other members who pointed to other areas of affordable housing where it failed.

“I’m a little skeptical because we did a similar thing where we gave land away for permanent supportive housing, and it’s not working out and because they have not been able to secure funding for security and so it’s a very hard thing for the neighborhood and for our city,” added Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros.

While the potential security and costs associated concerned some council members, the economic development also presented an opportunity for demonstrated commitment to the west side.

“The west side has been wanting more things more amenities, more, you know, more shopping options for a long, long time since I as long as I can remember,” said Valdemoros. “I would feel better if a nice new amenity for the entire community, for the entire neighborhood would happen at the same time. It seems like you have the funds, it seems like there are a lot of people willing to donate.”

Next and final steps for approval?

While the Salt Lake City Council had questions and concerns, it thanked the Other Side Academy for its willingness to work with them on the issues.

“This is new and, therefore, there are so many reasons for us to be nervous. The humanity of the people going into this village are to be centered and our neighbors on the west side who have repeatedly needed things to happen for them are also to be centered in this,” said Petro-Eschler.

“The Other Side Academy … there is like one other organization I would even be having this conversation with and just because we’re sitting here and fatally imagining every possible thing that would go wrong before we say yes and agree to anything, only shows that we want to have really good lines on the road to stay as far away from those gutters as possible,” she added.

A public hearing regarding both the rezoning and public comments will be held on Sept. 20. The council’s approval of a request for rezoning would be the last step in the city planning process for the village to move forward.

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Ashley Fredde covers human services and and women’s issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She’s a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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