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South Salt Lake, Utah: The Hub Provides Opportunity for Persons of Mixed Abilities
The Hub of Opportunity is a transit-oriented development providing accessible and affordable housing in the city of South Salt Lake, Utah. More than housing, the Hub consists of commercial and employment training spaces that support residents and community members, especially residents experiencing a range of physical and mental disabilities. The Hub was completed in 2020, the product of a development partnership between nonprofit Housing Connect, which is the public housing agency for Salt Lake County, and Columbus Community Center, which was founded more than 50 years ago to advocate for parents of children with disabilities in need of support services. Designed to be an inclusive space that integrates individuals and families regardless of age, gender, or disability status, the development features a mix of low-income and market-rate units. The project’s signature component is the NextWork Academy, a live-work space that supports young adult residents on the autism spectrum learning to live independently. The building also accommodates residents with significant cognitive and physical disabilities who require services from Columbus Community Center. For providing affordable housing in an integrated community setting, the Hub received a 2022 Award of Excellence in the Affordable Housing category from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
The Hub Serves Persons With Mixed Abilities
Located adjacent to the Utah Transit Authority’s Meadowbrook TRAX light rail station, the Hub is a five-story, mixed-use building. The development has 157 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, 140 of which are affordable. The affordable housing consists of 40 units with rents that are affordable to households with incomes up to 25 and 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) and 89 units with affordable rents for households earning up to 54 and 60 percent of AMI, as well as 11 units designated for the NextWork Academy. Seventeen units are available at market-rate rents.
The Hub is designed to achieve visitability, with barrier-free access within units and in common spaces to achieve inclusive community living for residents, families, and visitors. Eighteen units are accessible for residents with physical disabilities, with features such as roll-in showers and low countertops. The common spaces include an indoor fitness room, computer lab, and library as well as a courtyard with a fire pit, movie area, playground, and hammock park. According to Kristy Chambers, chief executive officer of Columbus Community Center, these spaces help residents get to know each other. Features that specifically support residents who benefit from reduced stimulation include an abundance of windows and natural light and an absence of overhead fluorescent lights; a sensitivity room reduces sensory stimulation to help residents relax.
Services for Independent Living
Thirty of the Hub’s units are reserved for clients of Columbus Community Center, many of whom have significant disabilities and require wraparound services and case management provided by onsite staff, including one person who lives in the Hub for overnight availability. These special needs residents moved to the Hub from Columbus Community Center’s scattered-site housing to receive supportive services in an integrated, multifamily apartment setting.
The defining aspect of the Hub is the NextWork Academy, a dedicated live-work space that supports independence for young adults with autism through comprehensive services. To achieve this goal, the NextWork Academy focuses on employability, with spaces on the first floor reserved for job training and skills development. Columbus Community Center staff offer comprehensive education, life skills, and employment training through classes and individual case management to help residents secure a job and eventually transition from the Hub. The NextWork Academy further supports its residents around the clock with a services coordinator who is also on the autism spectrum and who occupies one of the 11 units on the second floor. The NextWork Academy’s residential units are clustered to provide participants with a dormitory-like experience, according to Chambers. Residents can access services that promote social skills and independence in a safe environment, including classes in nutrition, personal finance, and healthy habits. Residents can live in the NextWork Academy’s intentional community and benefit from its services for up to 3 years. When residents leave the Hub’s NextWork Academy, Columbus Community Center helps them find affordable housing in the community and provides continuing individualized services.
The Hub’s Economic and Community Impact
In addition to the NextWork Academy, the Hub provides space for commercial uses that benefit the building’s residents as well as the broader community. One such tenant is the Utah STEM Action Center, a hands-on learning facility for teacher training and student workshops in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The commercial space also accommodates a German firm, auticon, that specializes in placing people with autism in jobs related to information technology and coding. Other occupants of the commercial space include a barbershop, a coffee shop, and a Spanish learning center. Spaces at the Hub are also used for activities open to the larger community, including regular meetings with the mayor, an afterschool program, and an annual arts auction for Columbus Community Center. According to the developers, the local community supported the project not only because it enhances the employability of people with disabilities but also because the Hub is a transit-oriented development that contributes housing and commercial density at a scale that is consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
Financing for the Hub
The developers coordinated an array of financing sources for the $46 million project, the largest development to date for both Housing Connect and Columbus Community Center (table 1). According to Janice Kimball, chief executive officer of Housing Connect, this project was one of the first to be developed in an Opportunity Zone in Utah and the first project by Housing Connect financed through both low-income housing tax credits and new markets tax credits. Goldman Sachs purchased both 9 percent and 4 percent federal housing tax credit equity. In addition, 9 percent and 4 percent state low-income housing tax credits were part of the finance package. The development financing included equity and two loans through the New Markets Tax Credit program. The developers raised nearly $6 million to realize the project. Because people with disabilities ride public transit at higher rates, the Utah Transit Authority, which owns the site, leased the property as part of its transit-oriented development program.
Table 1: The Hub of Opportunity Financing
|Federal low-income housing tax credit equity (Goldman Sachs)||$19,305,554|
|State low-income housing tax credit equity (Richman Group)||1,040,163|
|New markets tax credit equity||2,320,500|
|New markets tax credit loan (Goldman)||2,100,000|
|New markets tax credit loan (Columbus)||2,579,500|
|New markets tax credit defer fee||32,181|
|Rocky Mountain Community Reinvestment Corporation||1,511,575|
|Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund||980,000|
|Salt Lake County||900,000|
|Rocky Mountain Power rebates||189,788|
Addressing the "Service Cliff" for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Young adults on the autism spectrum face considerable challenges in learning to live independently and integrate successfully into society. The Hub’s NextWork Academy addresses specific challenges through stable housing and comprehensive services to enable independent living. Young adults with autism not only face some of the highest unemployment rates of any demographic but also experience a "service cliff," in which government-funded services are no longer available for many on the autism spectrum once they complete high school. Young adults with autism often require continued services when they move out of their parents’ homes to secure employment and attain independent living. Chambers hopes that the NextWork Academy sheds light on the need for comprehensive housing and services supports for those on the autism spectrum who wish to establish a household in the community but need a bridge to independence.