City of St. George throws support behind 55-unit affordable housing complex

Groundbreaking for 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 | File photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With the support of the city of St. George, the RiverWalk Village affordable housing complex is coming closer to fruition.

Switchpoint Community Resource Center Executive Director Carol Hollowell, St. George City Councilman Jimmie Hughes and others have worked several years to make the 55-unit project located on 2450 East Dinosaur Crossing Drive a reality. The three-story apartments, slated for completion in April, are under construction on 4.7 acres of land next to the Grayhawk at Rivers Edge Apartments, just east of Millcreek High School.

Nationwide, the U.S. is experiencing an affordable housing crisis — based on third-quarter 2018 data from the National Association of Home Builders, only 56% of home sales were classified as affordable. And fast-growing Utah is wrestling with its own problems in that same arena.

A state government report titled “2018 Utah Affordable Housing Assessment” states that since 2009, nearly two-thirds of renter households in Utah had incomes below 80% of the state median income — about $48,268, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These households are categorized as low-income, very low-income or extremely low-income.

The report found that roughly 45.5% of all Utah renters spent more than 30% of their monthly gross income on rent, and an additional 23% of renters spent more than 50% of their gross income to cover rent.

RiverWalk Village is required to follow state and federal low-income guidelines, which typically address the needs of qualified people who spend 30% or more of their gross income on monthly rent. The property will not be a temporary shelter, but rather a permanent home for low-income residents and families already earning a job income or via social security retirement payments. RiverWalk rents will be based on a sliding scale, depending on how much money a qualified resident earns.

Since RiverWalk will not be opening its doors until April 2020, and market conditions could change by then, the actual cost to its renters is not yet set in stone. However, Hollowell provided the following figures to reflect how much a low-income resident might pay if the property were renting today:

  • One-bedroom unit: $597 to $662.
  • Two bedrooms: $749 to $824.
  • Three bedrooms: $1,102 to $1,187.
  • Four bedrooms: $1,352 to $1,452.

“They can stay there forever if they qualify and continue to qualify,” Hollowell said, referring to accepted residents. “It’s an apartment complex, just like what St. George Housing Authority does. Now, if their income increases, then their rent is going to increase. And the hope is that we’re going to get (RiverWalk residents) making more income and get them moved on to a neighboring property like Grayhawk and pay market rate at some point.”

Groundbreaking for 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 courtesy of Switchpoint Community Resource Center, St. George News

The vast majority of the $11.5 million affordable housing project was raised via federal grants, tax credits, private donors, state funding and the city.

Approximately $1.9 million of its funds were loaned by Rocky Mountain Community Reinvestment Corporation, based in Salt Lake City. The St. George City Council voted Thursday to approve a measure that would allow the city the option to pay some or all of any related debt should the loan default.

However, the odds of that happening are unlikely, Hollowell said.

“Oh, it’s so slim — less than 1%,” she said. “Literally in 25 years, I’ve never seen one. These types of projects are so, so low-risk.”

City officials approved the subordination agreement in an effort to prevent a scenario where either RiverWalk or any other company would eventually flip the apartments from serving low-income residents and instead test the free market and dramatically raise monthly rent fees.

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

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