Religious leaders are urging Salt Lake City and county to finish housing plan before a state law closes 1,100-bed shelter

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake Major Jackie Biskupski visits the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Nearly three-dozen religious leaders are urging the city to complete its affordable housing plans and ensure the region has hundreds of units available to low-income residents before the downtown homeless shelter is closed by July 2019.

The collection of ministers delivered a letter Monday to Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, saying hundreds of people could be left with nowhere to go if deadlines are missed for constructing new affordable-housing units.

Bill Tibbitts, of the Crossroads Urban Center, said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wasn’t asked to sign on because “the process for getting approval for that kind of thing takes a lot longer for the LDS Church.”

Under work by the state, city and county, The Road Home will be closed while three smaller, scattered shelters are scheduled to open. Those three shelters will have 400 fewer beds than currently provided at The Road Home.

“If state and local government fails to act on these suggestions, we implore you to oppose the closure of the current shelter,” the group of religious leaders and homeless advocates wrote in Monday’s letter to Biskupski, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Gov. Gary Herbert.

“It would be unconscionable to close a shelter to adults and children if we have not created an alternative way for those human beings, made in the image of God, to sleep indoors during the winter,” they wrote.

The effort will require more state and local funding to spur development of at least 1,000 new housing units per year more than what’s already being created, the groups said.

To meet an immediate need for more housing units that can be rented by low-income residents, the city is weighing whether to help purchase and develop various properties. Five that have been suggested include 1500 W. North Temple, 1749 S. State, 525 S. 500 W., 2234 Highland Drive and 300 E. 400 South, where projects would include housing with market-rate and low-income units.

Those units would be attainable for residents who make 40 percent of the area median income and below. The city’s portion of investment would come from $21.6 million City Council members saved for housing while awaiting direction on where new housing would be built.

The remaining $8.4 million would be used for a rent-incentive program across Salt Lake City under a plan Biskupski proposed via the city’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA).

Biskupski joined several of the religious leaders in City Hall on Monday to accept their letter, and she called on the City Council to help move forward work to develop more housing before the 1,100-bed shelter at The Road Home is closed by state law June 30, 2019.

“It really is time that we get some projects underway to help us make sure that, come June 2019, we have real housing opportunities for those who are experiencing homelessness,” Biskupski said. “We have a little bit of a road to still go down.”

The RDA is led by the mayor and her team. The City Council makes up the board that votes on final policies and funding.

The council plans to discuss housing options at several meetings before two members who aren’t running for re-election are replaced after the Nov. 7 election.

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