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Community members push against housing project they say takes away renters’ dignity

Photo of a No Outlet sign at the corner of 700 East and Bueno Ave in SLC.
Emily Means
A proposal at 700 E. Bueno Avenue in Salt Lake City would replace existing residential units with a shared housing development.

A new shared housing project could be coming to Salt Lake City.

The proposed development for the east side of the city would replace existing housing with a “rooming house” apartment. This type of development is formerly referred to as single room occupancy housing.

The plan calls for 65 units with one to four bedrooms each. Residents would share a kitchen and living space, and each bedroom would have its own bathroom. It could house nearly 200 people.

Photo of a public hearing notice stapled to a pole.
Emily Means
The Salt Lake City Planning Commission recently held a public hearing on a proposed shared housing development on the city’s east side.

“This 65-unit, 192-bed deal is not going to address the housing crisis in Salt Lake, but it is intended to make a small dent to a certain demographic of renter,” said Michael Augustine with AltaTerra Real Estate, who represented the applicant during a recent Salt Lake City Planning Commission meeting.

Augustine characterized the rent as “attainable” for the workforce. The proposal puts rent at “40% lower than traditional multifamily” housing.

But some people view the development as an undignified way of living and worry it could worsen access to affordable housing.

During public comment, renters and homeowners spoke against the project.

“I'm a young professional, and I've got a bunch of friends who are young professionals,” said Keenan Wells. “The unanimous opinion is the only reason anyone would want one of these dorms is if they were desperate. Why would they be desperate? Because there's a lack of anything approaching affordable housing in Salt Lake because of developments like this.”

But Alessandro Rigolon, an assistant professor of city planning at the University of Utah, said this type of project can be a tool to ease housing demands.

“What these don't do is provide long-term housing affordability for families,” Rigolon said. “But it does address housing affordability for students, for single individuals and for people who might be in and out of homelessness.”

The planning commission voted to consider the proposal again at a later date.

John Ribbons with the group Wasatch Tenants United said the organization will continue to fight against the project.

“We deserve dignified housing, and we deserve affordable rents,” Ribbons said. “If the city wants to bet all their chips on making people happy by making it legal to put us in closets, that is their prerogative. But people are going to keep getting angry, and the city and developers should understand that in ignoring public input, they are harming the health of public civility.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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