Long-awaited affordable housing project breaks ground in St. George

ST. GEORGE — While building a 55-unit apartment complex aimed at providing transitional housing for St. George’s working poor may be a “drop in the bucket” when compared to an overall need of 1,800 units, it’s a step in the right direction, according to homeless advocates and city officials who attended the groundbreaking of the RiverWalk Village Friday.

At the groundbreaking the RiverWalk Village, a 55-unit complex aimed at providing affordable housing to the St. George area’s working poor, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

“Affordable housing is one of our largest barriers in the state for people in poverty,” Carol Hollowell, the executive director of the Switchpoint Community Center said as she addressed the gathering for the ceremonial groundbreaking.

While St. George’s economy is doing well and continues to be one of the country’s fastest growing areas, that has the downside of driving up home prices and rental costs to the point the city’s working poor can’t afford them.

“These are people that are working – and hard working. They just can’t afford some of our housing prices. So this is needed,” St. George Councilman Jimmie Hughes stated while discussing the RiverWalk Village project last November.

Located at 2450 East Dinosaur Crossing Drive, the site of the future transitional housing complex covers 4.7 acres next to the newly constructed Grayhawk development. The three-story, 55-unit complex will include one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom units.

“That will help a lot with those larger families that can’t find anything in this community,” Hollowell said. “Fifty-five units isn’t very many, but it’s a start, and it’s needed in our area.”

It will also feature a mix of market-rate units, units supplied via vouchers from the St. George Housing Authority and units offered on a sliding scale based on income.

The complex will also feature onsite case management and classes for residents geared toward promoting self-sufficiency. It will also sport a playground, a community garden and other amenities residents will be able to take advantage of.

Carol Hollowell (right), executive director of Switchpoint Community Resource Center, was a driving force behind the RiverWalk Village project, St. George, Utah, May 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

According to a recent market study done by Switchpoint, St. George needs around 1,800 housing units – be they apartments, condos or houses – to alleviate the affordable housing shortage. While new developments like the City View and Joule Plaza projects will create new apartment units in downtown St. George, they are geared toward the current market value and not affordable housing needs.

“I think it’s going to be a real community that they’ll live in at RiverWalk,” Hollowell said.

The nearly $12 million project is being spearheaded by the Friends of Switchpoint, the nonprofit group that runs Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George. Overall funding is being done through a combination of public and private sector donations.

Switchpoint itself is the community homeless shelter and resource center that provides multiple services under one roof that help uplift the area’s homeless and impoverished.

While she didn’t put an overall estimate on St. George homeless population, Hollowell said Switchpoint serves around 2,000 people annually. The shelter is always full.

Artist renderings of what the exterior and site plan of the RiverWalk Village set up in the office of Carol Hollowell, executive director of Switchpoint Community Recourse Center, St. George, Utah, March 15, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Read more: Switchpoint receives nearly $400K in donations, shares video of a family ‘rising from rock bottom’

Among the entities that provided donations in one form or another was the city of St. George. Mayor Jon Pike said the city – and thereby its citizens – had invested around $1.3 million into the project. That included the value of the land RiverWalk Village will be built on, among other items.

“We want this to work and believe the collective citizens of St. George want this to happen,” Pike said. “It’s a drop in the bucket, there’s more that needs to happen, but this is where it starts.”

While at least one St. George resident voiced opposition to the project during a public hearing in November, the local community at large hasn’t expressed any misgivings.

The concept of the RiverWalk Village was pitched to the St. George City Council over three years ago. The council was completely supportive of the project and gave it the go-ahead. While set to break ground at least twice since then, the project was stalled due to challenges that arose along the way, yet were eventually overcome.

“We faced a lot of obstacles, from meander line issues to title issues, all kinds of issues,” Hollowell said. “It’s hard when we can’t get it done in the time frame we want to, but my board and the city, and the crew we are working with – we’ve just had to have a lot of tenacity to get it done.”

The project is anticipated to be completed by April 2020 with applications for the apartments opening up around next March, Hollowell said.

St. George News reporter Joseph Witham contributed to this story.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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