Leaders urge landlords to house 100 more homeless people before new resource centers open

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Richard Dornik, 74, who used to be homeless in Salt Lake walks to his one bedroom place at Sharon Gardens Apartments in South Salt Lake, where he has lived for the last year and a half. Out of the 58 one bedroom units provided, 45 are for low income people with the 13 remaining at the market rate cost in an effort to help find solutions to the homeless problem. As three homeless resource centers come online to replace the existing downtown community shelter, which is slated for closure in September of 2019, community leaders are encouraging Salt Lake area landlords to making units available to people who have been homeless in an effort to move people into stable housing.

South Salt Lake ∙ Officials overseeing the closure this fall of Salt Lake City’s downtown homeless shelter and the transition to three new resource centers using a different model for addressing homelessness are pleading for landlords to do their part in solving the communitywide issue.

The Homeless Resource Center Transition Committee announced a new initiative Monday that aims to house an additional 100 people using federal vouchers by the time The Road Home is expected to shut the doors at its current facility in mid-September.

But with a low vacancy rate across the state, much of the success of vouchers rests in the hands of landlords — some of whom may be hesitant to take on tenants who face mental health challenges or lack a clean rental history.

“We have the vouchers, we have the tenants, and we just need more landlords to participate in this incredible program and give a big service back to the community,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at a news conference announcing the effort Monday.

The initiative will target those who have been experiencing homelessness for more than six months. It will also make use of an additional $400,000 the state recently funded for application fees and deposits and to hire case managers to match those who are eligible for vouchers with appropriate housing. The case managers also can help clients find employment and access other available resources.

Housing advocates with Salt Lake City have estimated there’s a gap of at least 7,500 apartments that are affordable to renters making $20,000 or less. Rent in the county jumped from an average of $720 a month in 2010 to $1,072 last year, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s midyear 2018 Apartment Market Report.

The vouchers come with a promise of consistent rent for landlords, but they’re also on the lower end of the spectrum of what a landlord could receive from a renter without one.

“Landlords command a lot of the criteria right now,” acknowledged Jonathan Hardy, director of the state Housing and Community Development Division. “But we still are able to place people into housing, so we don’t feel like it’s an absolute barrier.”

The Salt Lake Tribune recently spent six weeks with a couple experiencing homelessness as the pair navigated the voucher process with the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. Katherine and Ron Barrett had a Section 8 Shelter Plus Care Housing Voucher, which is one of the smaller programs the city offers but serves those who are chronically homeless. It took them weeks to find a place that met the price and location requirements established by the federal government and to find a landlord who would take them.

Housing is an important stabilizing force for people experiencing homelessness in addressing mental health, employment and physical health issues, according to Janice Kimball, executive director of the Salt Lake County Housing Authority.

The county already has partnerships with a number of landlords, she said, who see benefits to the voucher program — including consistent, on-time rent and extra support from caseworkers if there’s a problem with a tenant.

“For those of us who do property management, we know there are times when individuals who may be a good tenant have a bump in the road and there may be a lease violation, there may be some problems with rent," she said. "When we have these partnerships in place, then we have the ability to provide that extra support so case management or our housing liaison can get involved and really resolve those issues before they result in an eviction.”

The move from the 1,100-capacity downtown homeless shelter to smaller resource centers — two in Salt Lake City and one in South Salt Lake — has been billed as a way to provide a better system for delivering services like food, medical care, employment assistance and case management to people experiencing homelessness.

But there will be a gap of beds in the new system, meaning housing is a key piece of ensuring the new model’s success.

“There are fewer beds in these resource centers combined than exist in the current Road Home, and so we have to get people out of homelessness and get them back on their feet, and that’s a really important part of this,” Cox said. “The good news is we don’t have to wait until the new model is ready to start doing that. We are constantly working, but we’re putting a new emphasis right now on housing.”

The Homeless Resource Center Transition Committee announced its new initiative at the Sharon Gardens Apartments in South Salt Lake, a 58-unit building owned by the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp. that operates 45 units below market-rate rent for low-income and formerly homeless renters.

Richard Dornik, 74, has lived in a one-bedroom home at Sharon Gardens for the past year and a half under a county housing voucher. Before that, he was at The Road Home for about four months.

“It’s a lot better than the shelter and a lot better than the other place I had,” he said, noting that he had a good case manager who helped him get into his apartment.

But Tiffany Clement, the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp.’s regional property manager, said she hears from many formerly homeless tenants that they struggled to find housing.

“A lot of people have so many barriers that they can’t get housing, and we try our best to look past those barriers,” she said. “If other landlords could just pitch in and help, we could get more people housed.”