Developers have unveiled their plans to build a seven-story apartment complex on the land where The Road Home’s downtown emergency shelter once stood — a project long predicted by advocates who say business interests have been trying to push homeless services out of the neighborhood.
The new Salt Lake City community envisioned by the development team would be called the RIO, with a concept that calls for 210 apartments and about 4,000 square feet of commercial or retail space. It’s a project that aims to provide affordable housing “to the broadest spectrum of renters” possible, development partners dbURBAN Communities and Hamilton Partners said in a news release.
“It’ll bring vitality back to the community,” said Scott Howell of the Pioneer Park Coalition, a group that has fought for the neighborhood’s transformation. “I think it will be something that will help a struggling neighborhood and a struggling business community that has suffered for a long time.”
The Road Home emergency shelter, which formerly occupied the property, acted as a focal point for Utah’s homeless community until the building closed in 2019 as part of the state’s shift to a more dispersed service model. The new system relies on three smaller resource centers that offer a suite of services, including meals, housing assessments, job assistance and basic health care, all aimed at helping people exit homelessness.
The removal of the downtown emergency shelter also came after state auditors raised flags about unsafe living conditions inside the facility and after Utah officials launched a campaign against the violence and lawlessness that had overtaken the surrounding area. Now, with the demolition of the shelter, members of the Pioneer Park Coalition say they’re ready for the apartments to usher in a new phase for the lot at 210 S. Rio Grande St.
Others see the transformation of the neighborhood differently: as a form of gentrification that displaced those most in need of shelter.
Glenn Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center, said The Road Home facility should’ve remained open until officials were confident the new resource centers were sufficient to provide shelter to everyone who needed it.
Instead, he contends, the downtown building’s closure and demolition dates were arbitrary, influenced by politically powerful developers.
“We’re all paying for that now,” he said, “especially people on the street that don’t have access to shelter.”
The downtown Road Home shelter had space for 400 more people experiencing homelessness than the three new resource centers that replaced it. As a result, over the past couple of years, officials have grappled with a lack of bed space and have resorted to a patchwork of overflow shelters, hotel vouchers and warming centers to keep people off the streets, especially during bitterly cold weather.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that the state needs another permanent shelter to accommodate its current and future homeless population.
Even so, Howell argues, it was the right decision to close the Rio Grande Street shelter because of the conditions inside and around the building.
“The Road Home,” he said, “was nothing more than a warehouse of human beings that lacked any type of safe roof over their heads.”
Dave Kelly, chairman of the Pioneer Park Coalition, said development on that site was inevitable, whether or not the state had decided to overhaul the homeless services system. Eventually, a developer would’ve written a check so large that the shelter property’s owners would have little choice but to sell, he said. The site previously was owned by the nonprofit Shelter the Homeless, which sold it to the state as part of the overhaul.
“At least there was something good that came out of it,” Kelly said of the new apartment plans, noting that the developers have said they hope to incorporate affordable units.
Building Salt Lake, which first reported on the RIO project, has written that dbURBAN Communities and Hamilton Partners plan to make about 60 of the community’s units affordable for people earning between 60% and 80% of the area’s median income.
They did not accept government incentives for the project, the developers’ news release said, which can include requirements for affordable units.
Bailey said the state does need more housing in that price range but noted that those units wouldn’t provide the affordable rents he thinks would be appropriate, given the property’s history.
“Nobody that ever stayed at The Road Home is ever going to live there,” he said.
The state sold the property to Hamilton Partners, an Illinois-based real estate developer, at the end of December. With a purchase price of $6.75 million, Utah officials turned a sizable profit on the 1.17-acre property they bought in 2018 for $4 million. At the time, Salt Lake County assessors had pegged the value of the property at roughly $7.7 million.
The money the state made on the property sale will help it cover the $63 million cost of building the three new resource centers, according to the dbURBAN news release.
The developers don’t need a zoning change to move forward with their apartment plan but have submitted their concept to the city for design review, the release stated. The companies plan to break ground on the RIO this fall.
Hamilton Partners and dbURBAN also are collaborating on a 203-unit apartment project on an adjacent property at 530 W. 200 South. They said the two communities will together provide affordable housing to the neighborhood.