‘We could build 300 right now’: Democratic clubs come together to discuss affordable housing

Carol Hollowell (right), executive director of the Switchpoint Community Resource Center, was one of the driving forces behind getting the RiverWalk Village project to the groundbreaking stage. RiverWalk Village will be 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

ST. GEORGE — The Women’s Democratic Club of Utah and the Washington County Democrats are branching together to increase support for women running for public office and Democrats in Southern Utah. Members from both clubs met via Zoom on Saturday to discuss that and the need for affordable housing locally. 

Red Rock Apartments at Sienna Hills, an affordable housing development in Washington City, Feb. 18. 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

At Saturday’s meeting, the clubs were joined by Tara Rollins, the executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition, and Carol Hollowell, the executive director of Switchpoint Community Resource Center. Both speakers addressed the dire housing situation that Utah faces.

Today, 33,516 households in Utah are at risk of eviction, Rollins said. The eviction process includes notices from a landlord and a judge, all of which incur fees that can add up to more than three times a tenant’s monthly rent. In the end, the entire eviction process can cost more than $10,000. 

Rollins also spoke about the housing wage, which is an estimate of the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest rental home. It shows that things don’t quite add up when you compare the housing market to low-income wages. In Salt Lake County this year, a two-bedroom apartment costs roughly $1,230 a month. In order to afford that without spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, a tenant would need to make $23.65 per hour. In 2017, a two-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake County cost about $950 a month, and tenants needed to make $18.27 per hour to afford that. 

“If you’re paying more than 30% of your income on housing, you’re not living in housing you can afford and any hiccup really sends you into possibly eviction,” Rollins said. 

The lowest wage earners in the state are the people who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, Rollins added, such as grocery store workers, school bus drivers, teachers, child care workers, waiters and first responders. 

“These are all people that also have families and they’re using their houses not only for a roof over their head but they’re also using it to teach their children at school, also for health care purposes,” Rollins said. 

The RiverWalk Village apartments in St. George, Utah, Oct. 30, 2020. Switchpoint Community Resource Center built the village, which consists of 50 affordable housing units. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

To combat what she called a crisis, something must be done within the next two years before things get worse, Hollowell said. She suggested building a tiny home community in St. George that would support the homeless population and low-income families and individuals.

Southern Utah and the Salt Lake area have both seen an influx of homeless people in the last few months not because of a growing homeless population but because homeless individuals are searching for safer, more affordable places to be. A tiny home community would not only provide that, but it would also give low-income individuals a place other than a shelter to go. 

“Give me some land, somebody,” Hollowell said. “I need 25 to 50 acres, please, out by the airport and build me a tiny town that’s all-inclusive and allows them to get all the services that they need. We could build 300 right now that will alleviate all those tents that are downtown because it gives them somewhere they have to pay rent and they have to participate and we give them some jobs that allow them to do that.”

Hollowell and Rollins also suggested donating food and money to food banks and shelters.

The women’s club is a 125-year-old non-profit organization that is committed to encouraging women to run for public office, supporting Democrats who run for public office and providing a forum for vigorous discussion on key issues. The club meets each month to discuss pressing issues. Now that meetings have moved online the county Democrats have been able to join them.

FILE: Women’s Democratic Club of Southern Utah holding its first meeting at the Wagon Wheel in St. George, Utah, Jan. 2012 | Photo courtesy of Dorothy Engelman, Washington County Democratic Party, St. George News

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the women’s club lacked the capacity to reach Democrats from other parts of the state. Doing things via Zoom made it possible to connect with organizations like the county Democrats, women’s club president Robin Hough said. 

“I’m just calling it a cell right now that’s starting to develop in St. George and we’re really hoping that that will gel up,” Hough said. “And one of these days, if we’re not meeting via Zoom, that’ll be a group that could actually get together in St. George and work on local issues in your community and local elections.” 

Rebecca Sullivan, who ran for House District 75 in November and lost to incumbent Walt Brooks, serves as the liaison between the women’s club and the county Democrats. Locating Democrats in Washington County is not as easy as it is in Salt Lake County, but the county Democrats have managed to find pods of each other, Sullivan said. The hope is that joining in Zoom meetings with the women’s club will unify Democrats locally. 

“A lot of us don’t even know there’s any Democrats living by us,” Sullivan said. “It’s just advertising, getting it out, saying, ‘Hey, let’s join up with the Women’s Democratic Club of Utah,’ talking with each other on Zoom in our own chat room for Southern Utah here and getting to know one another and then having these really special meetings each month.” 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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