Provo affordable housing project offers hope for homeless

Candlelight Villas is ‘housing first’ complex with 72 units built by primarily with philanthropic support

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Messages of hope and inspiration are highlighted next to every unit entry at Candlelight Villas in Provo.

PROVO - The number of people in Utah who are homeless and unsheltered continues to rise.

But legislative auditors reported in fall of 2021 that the “housing first” model can keep people off the streets. Roughly 95% of people who entered permanent housing in Utah stayed there or moved into another housing situation, over the last several years.

The challenge? We aren’t building enough homes.

A Provo project years in the making opened this week, putting a dent in the demand.

Candlelight Villas, which celebrated its opening earlier this week, provides affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness, mental health services, dental and medical care.

“[Candlelight Villas] will provide a beacon of hope for those in our homeless and less fortunate populations who are in need of permanent supportive housing,” said Blake Entrekin, board chair for the Food & Care Coalition, the primary provider for homeless services in Utah County, during the a ribbon cutting June 29.

The new 72 one-bedroom units have been in the works since 2018. They’re behind the coalition’s 38 transitional housing units, which have been open since 2009.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A ribbon cutting highlights the new Candlelight Villas in Provo on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, a new supportive housing complex to help address the gap in homeless housing. Each unit is fully furnished and stocked with a full array of housewares.

There are approximately 20 on-site and visiting partners, from Wasatch Mental Health to dental providers, that wrap around the facility, providing for many needs at one campus.

The complex is supported by eight major donors: HomeAid, the Utah County Commission, the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state of Utah, the Olene Walker Trust Fund, doTERRA and VanCon.

Coalition Director Brent Crane said each major donor contributed more than $1 million, and added the Coalition receives about $1.4 million a year from various sources.

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find another entity that will use $1.4 million and make it go as far as we will,” Crane said.

Climbing the ladder

Clients can live at Candlelight Villas for one to two years, longer than the average of five to six months that they stay in the transitional housing units.

Shorter programs can cut off resources before clients are established in jobs and in their finances, said coalition board member Don Oldham.

Clients can live in Candlelight Villas as long as they participate in case management and abide by their lease agreement.

They haven’t established an income cap, Crane said, but once the “reasonable income limit” is hit, they initiate a grace period for the client to find new housing.

“In other words, as client income increases, they will move on and open spots for others to ‘climb the ladder’ of housing stability,” Crane said.

Clients will also help pay rent. Crane said most residents will be on subsidized housing vouchers and will not pay more than 30% of their income for a unit.

For instance, if they have no income, they pay no rent; but if they make $2,000 monthly, they’ll pay no more than $600 a month, he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather for the ribbon cutting of the new Candlelight Villas in Provo on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, a new supportive housing complex to help address the gap in homeless housing.

The coalition says it has already served:

  • 28,000 clients in 3,988 units of emergency shelter over 30 years, with a 9% long-term success rate.

  • 53,500 clients in 485 units of transitional housing over five years, with a 62.5% long-term success rate.

  • 17,520 clients in 30 units of permanent supportive housing over 10 years, with a 94% long-term success rate.

Oldham said “long-term success” means that three years after receiving services, clients remain employed and away from substance abuse.

Restoring dignity

Oldham said the coalition has been criticized for spending so much on high quality housing for people transitioning out of homelessness.

Providing quality housing is about restoring dignity to those who previously had nowhere to call home or spend time with friends and family, he said.

“So as we help them make this next move, where they’re now employed, they’re making a living, they have a nice place to live, how do you think they feel about themselves?” Oldham said. “They’re home.”