Salt Lake City one step closer to tiny home village for homeless individuals

The Other Side Academy pitched its vision to serve about 430 homeless individuals during a planning commission meeting.

Plans for The Other Side Village, a Salt Lake City tiny home community for individuals experiencing homelessness, made progress Wednesday evening after nearly an hour of public testimony.

The Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted in support of a zoning change necessary to establish the village, although it suggested that city leaders should consider transportation needs and protect existing residents and businesses as they move forward with the project.

While some residents near the site expressed reservations about the plan, business leaders, residents and advocates for homeless individuals urged the commission to get behind the project to supply needed housing in the area.

“We realize this effort will not eliminate homelessness,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “But we believe this village will fill a specific housing need to provide a safe and stable alternative to hundreds of people who are currently chronically homeless in Utah.”

And Tyeise Bellamy, founder of the Black Lives for Humanity Movement and an organizer who works with unsheltered individuals, said the programs proposed for the village would invigorate the surrounding neighborhood and offer opportunities to tiny home residents.

“Not everybody that’s unsheltered is just throwing their life away,” she said. “They are talented; they are gifted.”

Spanning roughly 37 acres, the two vacant properties in question are at 1850 W. Indiana Ave. and 1965 S. 500 West, according to a staff report prepared for Wednesday’s hearing.

The plan brought forward by The Other Side Academy, a nonprofit, is to build enough tiny homes to shelter about 430 people on the land currently owned by the city. In addition, the proposal calls for on-site health care, dental and mental health clinics and community gathering spaces to serve village residents.

Tim Stay, CEO of The Other Side Academy, said the idea would be to host farmers markets or craft fairs on the property and mentioned that the project designers want to build a performing arts center to host concerts, political debates and other events. The group also intends to run social enterprises so the village can support itself financially and allow residents to gain employment experience.

The village would be a gated community with controlled access and cameras around the perimeter, according to Stay.

Now that the planning commission has offered its recommendation, the proposed zoning change will go to the city council for a decision.

During Wednesday evening’s meeting, a city planner mentioned that those leading the tiny home village project sought out unused properties that were close to public transportation.

Sections of the property sit atop the old Redwood Road dump, Salt Lake City’s primary landfill from 1923 to 1962, according to information from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. A 2017 DEQ report found elevated levels of metals like lead, copper, mercury and nickel at the site, as well as hydrocarbons, but noted “there is no on-site population or residences” and recommended no further action.

The Other Side Academy, which runs a live-in vocational program, has said it hired a third-party consultant to review studies of the former landfill and conduct its own sampling. The sections of the parcel slated for the village would not feature housing and would be used instead for gardens and green space, academy officials have said.

Some west side residents who spoke up during the hearing discouraged the planning commission from approving the zoning change — arguing other neighborhoods should step up to provide homeless services.

“I think if we can all just be honest, it feels like this is coming to our neighborhood because everybody else already said no,” one resident said.

Other speakers said the area sorely needs grocery stores, restaurants and cafes and asked planning commissioners to promote projects that would bring these amenities to their community. There were also concerns about the impact that the village would have on the surrounding area.

But representatives of the academy invited commission members to consider their existing programs when thinking about whether they could maintain a neat and orderly tiny home village. Joseph Grenny, chairman of the organization’s board, said the academy’s current residential spaces are “more sober and chaste than a BYU dorm.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in April announced her goal of establishing a tiny home village to provide shelter for chronically homeless individuals.

Over the past few years, the city has experienced a shortage of shelter beds to keep people off of the streets, and state leaders say a lack of housing is the biggest culprit in that capacity crunch. Without deeply affordable homes, people are often stuck for long periods of time in one of the Salt Lake Valley’s three resource centers.