Tribune editorial: Shelter’s rising value shows compassion isn’t killing prosperity

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wolf, who is homeless, sets up a stand to sell tie-dye t-shirts in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park, Wednesday July 11, 2018. Wolf prefers to camp in various places around the city rather than stay in one of the available shelters because of drugs and other problems associated with those facilities.

If the Road Home homeless shelter has been dragging down property values in the Rio Grande area, a new tax assessment of the shelter isn’t showing it.

Salt Lake County’s new 2018 assessment put the property at $7.7 million, a huge leap from last year’s $3.2 million value.

Did the value really go up 140 percent in one year? Probably not, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the new value is wrong. It could be last year’s assessment understated the undeniable fact that downtown Salt Lake City is booming.

That rocketing value may spoil the hopes of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. Cox heads the state Homeless Coordinating Committee, which has set aside $4 million to buy the building when the shelter closes next year, perhaps to use for state archives. Now, it may be too costly.

If it really is a $7 million property, does the state need to buy it?

The decision to close the shelter came about because gentrification had beaten a path to its door. It was a warehouse district when the shelter opened in the 1990s, and now it’s a mixed-use bonanza.

If there is a private entity that would buy the building at market value and put it on the tax rolls, should the state compete with that? Then the shelter’s current owner, the non-profit Shelter the Homeless, can spend the money on homeless facilities and services elsewhere.

The bigger question is what will happen to the people inside the shelter. With closure still on track for July 1, 2019, many occupants will migrate to the new, higher-support shelters intended to move people into sustainable lives.

But some shelter residents, like many of those still living under tarps, won’t make that transition. And they won’t just disappear.

For its part, Catholic Community Services at this point is still planning on serving a daily meal to any and all at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall after the shelter closes. It also will keep the adjacent Weigand Homeless Center open to provide other support. The Fourth Street Clinic also will continue to provide medical and dental care at its clinic near Pioneer Park.

Closing the shelter won’t end the need for homeless services. That challenge may never go away. But there is good news in the shelter’s tax assessment: It’s getting harder to argue that helping the homeless kills property values.