Proposed Apartment On Salt Lake City’s West Side Leaves Residents Wondering Where To Go Next
Tina Holt Balderrama, 50, has rented a duplex in the Rose Park neighborhood on the west side of Salt Lake City for about six years. It’s just a few blocks from a TRAX station. Old trees mingle with low-hanging power lines in the backyard, and there are bullet holes in the windows.
Still, Balderrama said this place is special to her.
“My father passed in this house,” she said. “I nursed him in this house, and it's sacred land to me. And the last time I checked, you don't mess with sacred land.”
Holt Balderrama and her family are due for eviction at the end of March.
But it’s not because she’s fallen behind on her rent. Instead, a new apartment complex is planned for her block. It’ll demolish seven houses, including hers.
Now, she’s having a hard time finding a new place to live. She currently pays around $1,300 a month in rent and utilities for the two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit and is on a fixed income.
“I have the money saved to move if I need to,” she said. “But I cannot find a landlord that will accept my two dogs and accept my grandkids that I have custody of and just let us move in.”
Her neighbor, Shonte Griffin, has lived there almost as long. Griffin has two grandkids and works in health care. She said finding a new place will cost her hundreds more a month.
“You have to do what you gotta do,” she said. “It’s either pay it or what are you going to do? I have two grandkids. Where are we supposed to go? Get a tent and go around the corner?”
The development that will displace them is called the Kozo House. It includes 319 residential units, plus commercial space on the ground floor. The Salt Lake City Planning Commission approved the project last December.
Dallin Jolley is the cofounder of Modal Living, the developer of the Kozo. At the planning commission meeting, Jolley said he lived in the area for a few years and he believes the development will better serve the community than what’s there now.
“We currently own all seven of those homes,” he told the planning commission. That includes Holt Balderrama’s duplex.
“Five out of the seven are unrentable because of methamphetamine use or poor conditions,” he added. “They are not thriving families that are living there. It’s a dilapidated section of the block and they need to be removed.”
The Kozo proposal includes amenities like hot tubs and a private movie theater. Jolley said rent there will likely start at $1,050 a month for a studio apartment.
That’s priced to allow a single person making a little more than $43,000 a year — 70% of the Salt Lake County median income — to afford it. The calculation is based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s suggestion that you should only pay 30% of your income on housing costs.
However, a representative from Salt Lake City said they don’t have a say in the price of the units in the Kozo because they didn’t subsidize the property.
While Jolley views the Kozo as affordable housing, community members who oppose it see it as nothing more than another luxury apartment.
Earlier this month, the neighborhood activist group Rose Park Brown Berets hosted a protest against the development.
Pachuco Lautaro is in his 20s and a Brown Beret. He said he’s lived in the area all his life and views the Kozo as an attack on his community.
“It’s definitely gentrification, but we call it hood colonization,” Lautaro said. “Demolishing seven homes that exist and people are living in there right now — to me, that's pretty violent.”
Salt Lake City Planning Director Nick Norris said the problem with gentrification isn’t new buildings. It’s the forced displacement of people who don’t have a choice to stay in their neighborhood because it’s now out of their budget.
Norris said a number of projects like this one that are viewed as “luxury apartments” have popped up over the last few years.
“The term luxury really is a marketing term,” he said. “It's starting to refer to market-rate housing, which the market-rate housing in Salt Lake City is extremely high compared to what we're used to.”
A report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute shows the average rent in Salt Lake County rose 78% from 2000 to 2018, while income has lagged behind. The study directly links rent increases in the county to the construction of high-end apartments.
Looking ahead, Norris said Salt Lake City is working on a plan and policy changes to mitigate housing loss as a result of gentrification.
Jolley said he’s heard people’s concerns. As the developer, he said he wasn’t aware the tenants needed help — but still, he said it’s not his job to help them find a new place to live.
“As far as, like, relocation reachout, that definitely wasn’t in my purview,” he said.
But Holt Balderrama said she directly emailed Jolley in January 2021, specifically asking for help relocating.
“I pay my rent first thing each month for my security, and now I’m so unsure,” she wrote in the email. “Please have a heart. Help all of us families in this situation relocate, if you’re going to take all we have.”
She said no one ever responded.
As for the Kozo House, Jolley sees it as doing the Rose Park neighborhood a favor.
“I’m not building luxury condos. I can, by right, and I’m choosing not to,” he said. “So I can go build luxury condos here and that really is gentrification. That’s a real problem. We’re doing something that we feel like are providing more affordable housing units than our competitors would do.”
Jolley said they hope to break ground on the Kozo House in September.
Holt Balderrama still hasn’t found a new place to live, and she’ll stay in her duplex until they force her out.
She said she wants people to know if this can happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
“If somebody can come by your block and buy the entire block,” she said, “and then say, ‘OK, get everybody out at whatever cost,’ then no renter is safe in Utah.”
Ivana Martinez contributed to this story.