Salt Lake City, Utah: The 9th East Lofts at Bennion Plaza Provides Affordable Housing in a Transit-Oriented Development
The 9th East Lofts at Bennion Plaza is a mixed-income, mixed-use development that opened in 2017 in the East Central neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. Located just around the corner from the 900 East station of the Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX light rail system, the 68-unit, transit-oriented development features bicycle storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations in its 17-space garage to further promote environmentally friendly travel. The ground floor of the six-story building contains three retail storefronts facing Bennion Plaza, a public open space raised above street level to accommodate the underground utilities beneath the approximately half-acre site. In recognition of the 9th East Lofts’ vibrant and desirable design, the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City (HASLC) was honored with a 2019 Award of Excellence in Project Design by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
Accommodating Site Constraints with Solution-Oriented Design
The 9th East Lofts apartments are a mix of 57 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom units, each with a balcony. Fifty-four units are affordable to tenants earning between 25 and 50 percent of the area median income, and the remaining 14 are rented at market rate. Of the affordable units, 22 are reserved for special populations: 9 for individuals with physical disabilities, 4 for survivors of domestic violence, 4 for veterans, and 5 for individuals transitioning out of homelessness. “The 9th East Lofts are very welcoming,” says Vicci Jenkins, deputy director of property management at HASLC. “We have young professionals, doctors, veterans — it’s accessible to people of all walks of life.”
But before the brick and cast-stone façade of the 9th East Lofts rose up in East Central, a vacant recreation center occupied the small lot. The Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA) purchased the property in 2012 because its proximity to public transit and prime location between downtown and the University of Utah made the site ideal for a new community asset. Two years later, the agency sold the property at a substantial discount to HASLC, which could provide affordable housing as part of a transit-oriented development. In 2015, HASLC began demolishing the corrugated metal recreation center and salvaging elements from the wreckage for future use in the 9th East Lofts. Even in the project’s earliest stages, the small lot proved a challenge; Jenkins reports that HASLC had to buy an adjacent, newly built house to use as a construction office, which HASLC later leased to a retail cookie business.
The real constraints, however, lay beneath the surface. The historic Jordan and Salt Lake City irrigation canal ran underneath the site through a system of pipes. To avoid the pipes and their protective easements, HASLC had to place the building on the southwestern portion of the lot. Then, to accommodate the driveway entrance to the parking garage beneath the building, HASLC’s development team rerouted the canal and raised the building 4 feet above street level. The development team also removed six utility poles and buried the lines. After completing this complex infrastructure work, building progressed smoothly, and the 9th East Lofts opened less than 2 years after construction began in March 2017.
The total development cost of the 9th East Lofts was approximately $14 million, most of which was funded through low-income housing tax credits (table 1). Other contributors included the Salt Lake City Housing Trust Fund and the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, now called the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, a statewide fund to close financing gaps of affordable housing projects through low-interest loans.
Table 1: 9th East Lofts at Bennion Plaza
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||$10,839,603|
|Salt Lake City Housing Trust Fund||750,000|
|Rocky Mountain Community Reinvestment Corporation||1,750,000|
|Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund||800,000|
East Center’s New Community Asset
The 9th East Lofts bears no resemblance to the old recreation center, but pieces of the center’s history can be found throughout the new building. Some of these historic accents are on the ground floor. A scoreboard from the center’s basketball court hangs on the wall in the game room, where residents can get together to watch television or play pool, and a bank of salvaged lockers is in the new fitness room. On each floor, the elevator vestibule is decorated with hardwood flooring from the old basketball court.
The development’s three ground-floor storefronts open onto Bennion Plaza, which acts as an extended entryway into the building. Occupying the two smaller suites are the building’s leasing office and a salon, each of which is 650 square feet. A mattress store leases the larger, 750-square-foot space. Jenkins reports that pedestrian traffic in the area is high. Indeed, the 9th East Lofts is located in a bustling, walkable area with ample retail, employment, and recreational assets as well as other necessities. Residents need not rely solely on walking, however; in addition to the adjacent TRAX station, the 9th East Lofts is on the 209 bus route, which runs every 15 minutes, 13 hours per day. These transit options give residents the opportunity to save money to use elsewhere in their budgets. In providing an affordable, transit-oriented home for 54 low-income households, the 9th East Lofts fulfills RDA and HASLC’s vision of a new community asset.