After weeks of debate and public testimony, the Salt Lake City Council voted Tuesday night to clear the way for a village of tiny homes in the latest effort to quell the homelessness crisis.
The council’s 6-1 approval of a rezone request and unanimous approval of the terms of a ground lease mean officials with The Other Side Academy will be able to break ground on a village they will develop and operate on the west side.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the city was still fine-tuning the contract Tuesday, factoring in feedback from the public and council.
“We feel good about reaching this milestone,” she said, “and I can’t wait to welcome the residents to their new homes as soon as we can.”
The 8-acre pilot phase of The Other Side Village will include a total of 85 homes. Each will be about 280 to 400 square feet with a bed, bathroom, small kitchen and living area.
Of those, 54 will be set aside to serve chronically homeless Utahns, six will be available for staffers, and 25 will be used as revenue-generating nightly rentals for visitors, volunteers and the general public.
A representative for The Other Side Village said the organization hopes to have homes ready for move-in sometime next summer.
“We see this vote as an expression of trust and hope from our community leaders and our community,” Joseph Grenny, village co-founder and academy board chair, said in a statement. “We will be true to the trust. In coming months and years, we pledge to our new neighbors that the neighborhood will be more vibrant, more prosperous and even more beautiful because you have allowed us to come.”
What’s in the deal?
The pilot project’s parcel is just west of Redwood Road, between Indiana Avenue and 500 South. It will be leased to The Other Side Academy for a dollar a year over the next 40 years.
Construction and environmental cleanup costs will fall on The Other Side Academy, and the nonprofit expects the pilot phase’s nearly $13.8 million price tag will be covered mostly by donations and in-kind contributions.
The village also will get an infusion of public money. Last month, the Utah Homelessness Council voted to give the project $4 million in federal pandemic-relief funding.
Residents will need to pay rent to stay in the drug- and alcohol-free village. The homes will be income-restricted and units will be available for a 12-month lease term.
The Other Side Village has said it will help tenants find and maintain a source of income, including employment, benefits and vouchers.
Job opportunities will be available at businesses within the village, and revenues from those businesses will help pay the operating costs for the project. The ground lease also calls for the inclusion of a small grocery store that will be required to sell fresh food.
Tenants will have access to case managers and on-site support services. If specific services are not available within the village, transportation to those resources will be provided.
According to the lease, The Other Side Academy intends to prioritize outreach efforts along the Jordan River and in west-side neighborhoods to find potential residents.
Council member Darin Mano cast the lone vote against the rezone request, saying he wanted to see only the 8-acre portion of the parcel receive the new zoning designation. He voted in favor of the lease.
The village has long been on Mendenhall’s list of policy priorities. In April 2021, she announced The Other Side Academy would spearhead the project.
The organization, which operates a residential vocational training program near downtown, saw an outpouring of support over two public comment periods for the project in recent weeks.
Although backing for the proposal dominated the periods of testimony, some neighbors expressed concerns about the west side yet again shouldering the city’s biggest challenges.
At Tuesday’s meeting, west-side council members Victoria Petro-Eschler and Alejandro Puy, both in their first terms, acknowledged the frustration their constituents feel over a historic lack of investment.
“We need to do everything in our power to mitigate not only the consequences,” Puy said, “but also bring good things to the west side.”
Petro-Eschler lamented the shortchanging of the west side but praised the “merits of this laudable project, which was deemed too risky or nonconforming for other areas of the city.”
She also stated that a city-owned parcel at the mouth of Emigration Canyon was initially considered for the village. (A council spokesperson later noted the city did not own that land.)
Still, Petro-Eschler voted for the project, saying The Other Side Academy was responsive to concerns about the village and that the project can be leveraged for the area’s growth.
Mendenhall’s administration pushed the plan as a way to reduce the cost of public care for unsheltered residents, free up shelter space, create a path to secure housing, spruce up a vacant piece of land and encourage additional development.
The administration says it will monitor the project’s financial feasibility, the success of its residents and any negative effects on the Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods.
In the meantime, Mendenhall said her administration is wielding every tool it has to make additional investments on the west side.
The city will be able to jack up the price of the lease to fair market value or back out of the deal if The Other Side Village does not meet the requirements.
If the project succeeds and officials want to expand it, a separate contract will have to be reached. The village eventually could include up to about 430 homes and occupy about 40 acres.