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Preserving affordable housing is difficult, but some in Utah are doing it

Preserving affordable housing is difficult, but some in Utah are doing it (KUTV)
Preserving affordable housing is difficult, but some in Utah are doing it (KUTV)
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For Edna Williams, finding St. Mark's Tower in Salt Lake City was a godsend.

“I don’t think I would have survived if I couldn’t find places like this,” said Williams, who has lived in the high-rise for low-income seniors for almost three years.

Joe Wick, 82, feels the same. He’s been a resident there almost five years. With no pension from his career, he takes in only social security income.

To live at the complex, both Wick and Williams pay 30% of their income for rent. Utilities are included. A federal housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pays for the rest.

Without this place, Wick said, “I’d be with the homeless people, probably.”

St. Mark’s Tower is a form of affordable housing that plays a critical role in the lives of those who live there. But in Utah, affordable housing can be hard to come by. Earlier this week, advocates called for making more options available to those who need it, particularly seniors.

But are there enough incentives for property owners to do that, particularly when converting affordable housing into market-rate rentals can often bring in more money?

The short answer is, probably not. But some who are in the business are determined to continue to provide affordable housing to those who need it, even when there's more money to be made elsewhere.

“They deserve a nice place to live,” said Lisa Jones, owner of Danville Development Corporation, which manages St. Mark’s Tower and a number of other affordable housing units.

In this hot housing market, Jones said she regularly receives calls from interested buyers wanting to purchase one of their affordable housing properties. But she turns them down.

“Our owners are all mission-driven,” said Jones. “They’re in it for the residents.” For example, she said, St. Mark's Tower is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

But not everyone is so altruistic, even though there's a huge need. According to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, roughly 50,000 low-income renter households in Utah who need rental assistance or subsidized housing don't get it.

Daniel Nackerman, executive director of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City, said there are some incentives for property owners to maintain affordable housing rather than converting them into market-rate rentals. That includes HUD sometimes paying owners more money each month — known as enhanced rent — to keep units affordable, he said.

But with such high levels of need — Nackerman estimates thousands of families in Salt Lake City alone are on a waiting list to get into an affordable apartment — he said there “absolutely” should be more incentives available for property owners to maintain affordable housing.

“It’s super important to preserve the affordability that exists now,” Nackerman said.

He likes the state's recent multi-million-dollar investment in that effort, and he’s hopeful for the future.

“More and more people are talking about affordable housing,” Nackerman said. “It’s extremely hopeful compared to 10 or 15 years ago.”

For Williams, having a nice, affordable place to live means everything.

This could easily be a luxury apartment complex, and it’s for us, poor people,” she said, smiling. “It makes me feel so secure. Really, it does."
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If you need help with rent, there is assistance available to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can apply for that at

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