The Road Home opens new 65-unit apartment complex to get the chronically homeless off the streets

The Magnolia apartments will help make “an impact on the homeless system,” The Road Home’s executive director says, by “pulling people in who have really struggled to get into housing.”

A new permanent supportive housing development in downtown Salt Lake City will bring at least 65 people experiencing homelessness off the streets or out of the shelters next month.

The units come online as the city grapples with an apparently expanding unsheltered population, and a lack of housing inventory, which is making it hard to move people through the shelter system.

“We will see an impact on the homeless system with these 65 units,” Michelle Flynn, executive director of The Road Home nonprofit that will operate the complex, said during a media tour of the building on Thursday. “We are pulling people in who really have struggled to get into housing.”

The studio apartments at the Magnolia complex on 165 S. 300 East will make all the difference for the chronically homeless individuals who will soon call them home, a group made up of people Flynn said are the “most vulnerable” of the vulnerable.

But Flynn recognized that the units represent a small dent in the large demand for housing in the Salt Lake Valley, both for people experiencing homelessness and the population at large.

To help address the needs of people who are unsheltered, the county needs even more permanent supportive housing, which provides access to case workers and other services for residents, Flynn said. But she said there’s a need for many others types of housing solutions to address the diverse circumstances people face, as well.

“We’re looking at other types of single unit, single room-type units that have maybe a lighter version of supportive services for individuals... gentlemen or women who are working, just not making enough money, don’t really need this level of support services,” she said. “We need some of that, too.”

Among the housing solutions the city is exploring is a tiny home village leaders see as an option to help people exit homelessness and build community.

The Magnolia joins several existing permanent supportive housing complexes in the Salt Lake County area that are similarly centered around a “housing first” model that prioritizes getting people into a stable living situation so they can then address other needs in their lives.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Magnolia, the new 65-unit permanent supportive housing complex for people who have experienced homelessness. on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

These long-term apartments, which offer heavily subsidized or no-cost rents, have proven to be extremely successful, with retention rates of about 95% in communities located in Salt Lake County. In Utah County, such efforts have led to a 50% reduction in the homeless population over the last three years.

Unlike many permanent supportive housing projects in the Salt Lake Valley — such as The Road Home’s Palmer Court, a 201-person community retrofitted from a former Holiday Inn — the Magnolia was built with people experiencing homelessness in mind, Flynn noted.

The $17 million facility has big, open windows and the rooms are equipped with kitchen goods and bedding purchased by volunteers, including from a new Salt Lake City volunteer program, as well as two weeks of food to get them started. Residents will also have access to onsite case management and other programming.

The building has “support baked into its bones,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at a ribbon cutting event for the facility on Thursday.

“It’s big and it’s beautiful, and it’s a place for those Salt Lakers to establish their next phases of their lives and build community, because homelessness is largely the result of a catastrophic loss of family and belonging in community,” she said. “That’s why it’s critical for us to try to reestablish connections and foster new ones, and that’s part of what this building is designed and ultimately constructed to do — not just create housing, but build community and foster relationships.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks about the Magnolia, the new 65-unit permanent supportive housing complex for people who have experienced homelessness during a news conference, on Thursday, June 24, 2021.