Much-needed affordable micro-apartments open in the Ballpark neighborhood

Colony B offers 140 dwellings at 228 W. 1300 South in Salt Lake City, with units set aside for disabled tenants and teens aging out of foster care.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Colony B is a new 140-unit affordable, mixed-income, residential development at 288 W. 1300 South in Salt Lake City's Ballpark neighborhood, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

For new affordable housing opening in Salt Lake City, the 140 studio and one-bedroom apartments at Colony B hit several sweet spots.

The long, thin five-story building at 228 W. 1300 South — a few blocks west of Smith’s Ballpark — has been open a week and already a third of the dwellings are leased, with 106 of its units subsidized for tenants making between 25% and 50% of the area’s median income.

That’s yet another sign of the city’s demand for affordable homes amid what’s being labeled a crisis displacing many longtime residents at alarming rates.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Inside one of the 140 micro-dwellings at Colony B, a newly opened affordable apartment complex in Salt Lake City's Ballpark neighborhood, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

Colony B’s other 34 micro-apartment units will be rented at market rates but will remain affordable to those making 70% of the region’s average wages.

That’s due in big part to hefty tax incentives and other financial support, including from the city’s Redevelopment Agency — with a share of $1.34 million — as well as backing from Connecticut-based real estate developer The Richman Group, and almost a dozen other partners.

With what advocates call “naturally occurring” affordable housing now almost nonexistent in Utah’s capital, according to Mayor Erin Mendenhall, mixed-income projects such as Colony B “really take a village to build.”

“It takes all of us,” the mayor said at a small fete Wednesday for the building’s opening, “to make sure that literally all of us can afford to keep living in the city and that our kids can grow up and see themselves living here at any stage in life.”

On top of being affordable, the $20.5 million project offers 15 homes built for access by residents with disabilities and 11 units for young people aging out of the state’s foster care system.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Inside one of the 140 micro-dwellings at Colony B, a newly opened affordable apartment complex in Salt Lake City's Ballpark neighborhood, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

A model for ‘every part of the city’

The new housing took 16 months to build and its construction was rocked by labor shortages, escalating material costs and supply chain problems, said Josh Runhaar of one of the project’s main backers, Neighborhood Nonprofit Housing Corp.

Determination by builders with Kier Construction and others kept the project going, he said, while tax credits and patient private equity investors allowed costs to stay down.

Terry Gentry, executive vice president with The Richman Group, also credited major lenders such as American Express, Zions Bank, Ally Bank and Key Bank. “Without their funds,” Gentry said, “this project wouldn’t happen.”

Some of the first residents to move in carried all their possessions in suitcases and had no furniture, said Jake Williams of development partner defy Co.labs. “It was eye-opening,” Williams said. “This is an example of what we can do when we come together as a community.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Residents in the Colony B will have shared amenities on every floor, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

Council member Alejandro Puy, who serves as chair of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, said Colony B was a model that city officials hoped to replicate “across the board, in every part of the city.”

“Don’t let us get too far without talking about what is next, ” Puy told those involved. “We want to be your partners.”

Officials struck similar themes at a groundbreaking last week for Spark, a residential development on RDA-owned property along North Temple at the site of the former Overniter Motel. That 2.1-acre project will have 200 new units, with half of them kept more affordable, along with ground floor retail space and a day care center.

Later on Wednesday, city officials broke ground on a new village of tiny homes planned on 8.5 acres just west of Redwood Road, between Indiana Avenue and 500 South. The city is supporting the project by leasing the land it occupies for a dollar a year.

A boost to the Ballpark neighborhood

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) This fifth-floor common area at Colony B offers a view of Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

The Colony B homes are located next to the Ballpark TRAX station, too, giving tenants major advantages and flexibility, Puy said, “to find jobs, build families and establish themselves. It’s huge.”

The residential complex also opens as the Ballpark neighborhood is stepping up its efforts for economic and neighborhood improvement after the Salt Lake Bees announced in January they’ll be moving to Daybreak in South Jordan.

Residents of Colony B are projected to spend $2 million yearly at nearby retailers, generating an estimated ripple of $19 million in economic benefits, according to The Richman Group’s executive vice president.

Council Chair Darin Mano, a Ballpark resident, called the neighborhood “an incredible place” and said Colony B was an example of changes sought under a new set of development strategies for the area, known as the Ballpark Station Area Plan.

“Bringing more residents into our community and to our neighborhood to help build and create excitement and patronize new businesses,” Mano said, “is exactly what we need.”

The new housing also opens at a turning point in the state’s approach low-income housing tax credits, or LITC, offered to developers and investors as help in financing affordable housing — a kind of assistance deemed crucial to getting Colony B built.

David Damschen, who heads the nonprofit Utah Housing Corp., noted that state lawmakers have now expanded those credits tenfold and widened who can receive them. Instead of providing so-called gap financing to supplement other lending for housing projects as they have in the past, he said, those credits will now play a much bigger role.

“That’s going to help us develop and finance more units,” Damschen, a former state treasurer, said. “We’re going to accomplish really, really important things.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Colony B tenants also have access to a ground-floor bicycle storage area, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.