SALT LAKE CITY — Plans for The Other Side Village, a tiny home community for the homeless, took an important step forward Wednesday night when the Salt Lake City Planning Commission (Commission) approved a zoning change needed to establish the village, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
This vote was taken after nearly an hour of public testimony, and while the Commission approved the change, they also suggested that city leaders consider transportation needs and protect existing residents and businesses as they move forward with the project.
“We realize this effort will not eliminate homelessness,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. “But we believe this village will fill a specific housing need to provide a safe and stable alternative to hundreds of people who are currently chronically homeless in Utah.”
These properties are currently owned by the city.
In addition to shelter, the plan from The Other Side Academy calls for on-site healthcare, dental and mental health clinics, and community gathering spaces.
Tim Stay, CEO of The Other Side Academy (Academy) said the plan also envisions hosting farmers markets or craft fairs on the property, and possibly a performing arts center to host concerts and other large events.
To help residents gain employment experience, the Academy also intends to run social enterprises, which in turn will help support the village financially.
Cameras and gates will be installed around the perimeter to allay safety concerns.
Just down the street of the lot is Alvie Carter’s home where he’s lived for twenty years.
“Five cars used to come by a day,” he said. “Now it’s over 200.”
“The size of it is important. It’s proximity to transportation is important. It’s closeness to downtown is important,” said Joseph Grenny, the chairman of the board for the Other Side Academy and Village.
Grenny said the neighborhood will be self-contained and offer supportive housing and services.
“We need to have a large enough community where it can be self-reliant and offer the kind of rich experience the people we invite to the village will want,” he said.
Dee Brewer with the Downtown Alliance supports the project, saying Salt Lake City is facing a housing crisis.
“Folks need somewhere else to go and these affordable housing projects like this are a very good solution for some of those individuals,” Brewer said.
It’s now up to the Salt Lake City council to vote on it. If that passes, Grenny said it’ll go to the mayor’s office. He said the mayor has been supportive of the project and is confident she’ll have their backs.
During Wednesday evening’s meeting, a city planner mentioned that those leading the tiny home village project sought out unused properties that were close to public transportation.
One concern about the property is a 2017 Department of Environmental Quality report that found elevated levels of heavy metals on the site and recommended no further action be taken because there was, at the time, no residences built there.
But the Academy said it hired consultants to do their own sampling, and will ensure that the areas in question don't include housing, but instead will be used for green space.
This plan is not without its critics, as some people at the hearing argued other neighborhoods should step up to provide homeless services.
For Carter, he said if the people come, he’ll move.
“What choice you got? You got no choice,” he said.
Other speakers said the area sorely needs grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes. and asked planning commissioners to promote projects that would bring these amenities to their community. There were also concerns about the impact that the village would have on the surrounding area.
But the Academy told Commission members to consider their existing properties, which Academy Board Chair Joseph Grenny said are “more sober and chaste than a BYU dorm.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in April announced her goal of establishing a tiny home village to provide shelter for chronically homeless individuals.
Over the past few years, the city has experienced a shortage of shelter beds to keep people off of the streets, and state leaders say a lack of housing is the biggest culprit in that capacity crunch.