Homes for urban campers? St. George non-profit pitches big in SLC for “at least 3” motel conversions for homeless relief

Just as we learn the former Road Home shelter site is turning over to mostly market-rate housing, emails circulating in the Downtown business community are drumming up support to turn “at least three” Salt Lake City area motel/hotels into micro-unit housing for people currently homeless. 

“An unusual combination of real estate market dynamics and federal stimulus money has provided a unique opportunity” for Switchpoint, the St. George-based non-profit said in an email making their pitch to Salt lake City influentials.

Switchpoint, which runs two emergency shelters in addition to Tooele and Southern Utah operations, proposes a “”vertical tiny home community” at the Airport Inn, 2333 W North Temple. The motel is currently serving as a room voucher host and resource center for Salt Lake City’s homeless service and outreach efforts.   

The Airport Inn at 2333 W North Temple. Photos courtesy Google and Jack Douglas.

The Airport Inn is listed by the county assessor as privately owned and valued at over $4.7 million. 

It sits on very generous transit-area zoning, TSA-MUEC-C. City code states “Buildings are often large scale in nature and may have large footprints” in this transit-oriented “employment-center” area.

The Airport Inn (upper left in red) at 2333 W North Temple seems likely to be redeveloped under Transit Station Area zoning. Will it be micro-units priced at $400-450/mo rent?

The initiative has the active support of the revered, long-serving advocate for “our homeless friends,” Pamela Atkinson, who may have a central role in the project. 

What might it look like?

How these projects would differ from a rooming-house or co-housing arrangement, where residents share kitchens and/or bathrooms, is unclear. Most cities have dropped these land uses from their zoning, although Salt Lake City is interested in bringing them back in its “shared housing” zoning amendments currently on the city council’s desk for briefing.

Once called “tenement” or “rooming houses,” then “SROs,” and now “shared housing” in Salt Lake City, various forms of micro-unit housing seem to have significant market push recently. Micro projects abound in Central 9th and along North Temple.

Yet motel conversions have a distinct look. Two that are permanent supportive housing in Salt Lake City are Palmer Court, at 999 S Main St., a former Holiday Inn, and Freedom Landing, at 1990 W North Temple.

Photos courtesy Housing Authority of Salt Lake City and Kier Construction.

In most places, housing units that aren’t complete apartments (sleep area, bathroom, and kitchen) can only exist in motel and hotel zoning.

Will it help?

Converting motels and hotels into affordable housing is a strategy that has been adopted across the country, including in leading Utah cities. 

Switchpoint’s and Atkinson’s pitch is backed by “$2 mm so far from private donations and faith based community,” their email stated. Both were contacted by BSL but did not respond before post time.

The Downtown Alliance and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce endorsed the proposal, claiming “This would add to the transitional housing stock that is desperately needed to assist Utahn’s on the precipice of homelessness and to reduce the number of individuals encamped on the streets.”

Switchpoint Executive Director Carol Hollowell wrote that their “experience in operating two winter overflow shelters…has helped us identify a large number of homeless friends who have the capacity to afford housing and need a small, private area to call their own.”

Many reported they could pay $400-450 in rent, Hollowell claims, which is what the project will aim at. 

Switchpoint is hopeful that “This concept will alleviate the need for a significant portion of the homeless population needing winter overflow for 2021-2022,” each year a major concern and resource drain for service providers.

Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.