Council approves loans for two affordable housing projects

Rendering of the Violin School Commons Development as would be seen from 300 East. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

Developers of two proposed affordable housing projects are moving forward with their projects after securing financial help from the city.  On Tuesday the Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved two Housing Trust Fund loan requests for the proposed Violin School Commons and First Step House affordable housing developments.

“I am excited and encouraged by the amount of affordable housing development that is happening in the city and quality of the affordable housing that is happening,” said Council Chair, Erin Mendenhall.

The two projects will add a combined 150 affordable units that will range from transitional housing to 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI).

The council approved a $1 million loan to Form Development and Cowboy Partners for the mixed-use Liberty Uptown building, part of the Violin School Commons development.  The project, proposed for the northeast corner of the 200 South and 300 East intersection. will consist of two new construction buildings and the adaptive reuse of the historic Northwest Pipeline Building.

The landscaping plans for the Northwest Pipeline Development. Image courtesy Salt Lake City.

The Liberty Uptown will include 109 residential units, 63 of which will be reserved for residents earning at least 60 percent.  The five-story building will have ground floor retail and four floors of residential fronting 200 South and a plaza named after the adjacent Violin School.

“We think all of the aspects here, the market-rate units, the workforce housing and supportive housing, are really reflective of the city and that particular neighborhood,” said Chris Zarek, a partner at Form Development.

The eight-story, Northwest Pipeline Building will become the Metropolitan and will have ground floor retail and seven floors of residential with 74 market-rate units.  The third building, the Magnolia will be six stories and will have 65 affordable units that will be reserved for residents transitioning out of homelessness.   According to Zarek, the developers plan to move forward quickly on the Magnolia to meet the current demand for transitional housing.  Once built, Shelter the Homeless will own the Magnolia and the Road Home will be the operator.

Councilmember James Rogers used the Violin Commons project as evidence that the city doesn’t need citywide inclusionary zoning that would require developers to reserve a certain amount of affordable units in all new developments.  “Here we have a project that will have 111 units without inclusionary zoning,” he said.  “Look at what we are doing without that type of zoning, we are incentivizing, we are developing affordable units without mandating the developers that they do it.”

Unlike the Violin School Commons, the units in the proposed First Step House project will be entirely income restricted.  The council approved a loan of $402,250 that the nonprofit will use for land acquisition of a two-story vacant commercial structure directly north of their facility on the 400 south block of 500 East.  The commercial structure will be replaced with a 40-unit housing development for residents earning up to 30 percent the AMI.

First Step House provides treatment services for veterans and plans to expand their 500 East campus to include a five-story building that will be a mix of affordable housing and supportive services.  The second phase will replace a surface parking lot directly north of the current facility and will include 75 residential units that will be reserved for residents earning at or below 30 percent AMI ($15,850 for a one-person household).

Construction of the Violin School Commons will start later this year with a completion date of 2020.  First Step House staff expect to start construction of the second phase in December and on the third phase in April 2019.

Conceptual rendering of the proposed second phase in the First Step House campus. The two-story office building pictured on the right is the site of the project’s proposed third phase. Image courtesy First Step House.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at