It’s 280 square feet. It doesn’t have a full fridge or a bathtub or a large couch.
But, hey, it’s sure less cramped — and more comfy — than camping.
That’s the relief a tiny home — the first one was unveiled Monday — could offer the chronically unsheltered in a project Salt Lake City officials believe will chip away at the ongoing homelessness challenges facing Utah’s capital.
“Today is the beginning of the realization of this dream,” Mayor Erin Mendenhall said. “And we’re finally able to see, feel and touch the first of what will be 60 units.”
The Other Side Academy is spearheading the proposed tiny-house community on a 37-acre parcel west of Redwood Road (1700 West) between Indiana Avenue and 500 South.
Officials from the nonprofit selected the home they unveiled Monday from a series of designs developed last year by graduate students in the University of Utah’s architecture school.
The home offers kitchen and dining space, an area to sleep, and a private bathroom with a shower. The house could serve single residents and couples.
Assistant U, professor Sarah Winkler, who oversaw the undertaking, said the houses will vary in cost but should carry a price tag of roughly $90,000.
Winkler, who has worked on the project since early 2021, said her students started construction on the house in May and wrapped up Aug. 3.
“It was worth every minute,” she said, “of the behind-the-scenes worry and everything.”
Winning over the west side
In April 2021, Mendenhall announced The Other Side Academy would design and manage the village of tiny homes. The academy runs a two-year, live-in program that teaches vocational and life skills.
Joseph Grenny, chair of the academy’s board, told attendees Monday that the initial announcement understandably created concerns for many residents in Poplar Grove and Glendale, who would be neighbors of The Other Side Village. He said it also drew skepticism that the chronically homeless are capable of self-reliance.
“Some took offense at our suggestion that hard work and personal change were preconditions to a better life,” Grenny said. “And some still say that creating such a large community is a recipe for disaster.”
Most people, he said, don’t share that skepticism. And the majority of those west-siders have come to embrace the proposal, which he contends will help those in need reach their potential by creating a supportive community.
“They’ve seen that we come bearing gifts,” he said, “not problems.”
The Other Side Village plans to build the project in stages over multiple years. The 60-home first phase is expected to cost about $7.5 million.
Residents will need to pay rent and keep the properties neat.
Officials say it also will provide more than housing. Residents will have access to services like health care, substance abuse counseling, food and job opportunities.
Project’s fate in the council’s hands
Mendenhall said her administration will send a public benefits analysis over to the City Council this week for consideration. The report outlines how the exchange of a discounted lease on city-owned land would contribute to the wider public good.
If the council embraces the report and approves a rezone request for the site, the project will move forward.
First-year council member Alejandro Puy, whose District 2 would be home to the village, said he will be looking for the community impact and paying attention to how the city can hold the project accountable.
Puy supports the idea of tiny homes but said he also needs to be responsive to community concerns.
Still, he said, he trusts that the mayor and her administration put in the time to create a comprehensive report on the project.
“And they asked the tough questions,” he said.