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Raze the Roof Beams

As downtown gentrifies, the history of low-income housing comes full circle.



Melvin Hipwell’s dead, says a neighbor, his Apple Fitness-tagged key chain dangling from the lock of Hipwell’s last known residence. He was a crazy, grumpy old man who hated me.

But civil rights attorney, Brian Barnard and three long-time advocates for the poor—Tim Funk, Dan Lopp and Dick Lodmell—describe a different side of Hipwell, one full of eccentricities—such as his adherence to a strict vegetarian diet, his invented trinkets and the fact that he kept a 50-gallon drum of molasses in his home.

“He was a bizarre character who was into organic food and was thin as a rail,” says Funk. “He had a hawk head, with these eyebrows that went all the way back to his forehead, literally. He was a very memorable character.”

Funk, Lopp and Lodmell spent most of the 1970s organizing on behalf of Salt Lake Community Action Program and Crossroads Urban Center, both nonprofit organizations that still run programs to provide food and housing to promote self-sufficiency for disadvantaged people. Back then, they organized residents to resist the loss of their homes to development, while Barnard filed lawsuits against the developers and the state. Hipwell, among other tenants, protested the demolition of low-income housing.

Most ’70s lefties recall how the Central City neighborhood—bounded by South Temple, State Street, 700 East, and 1300 South—and the downtown area lost a significant amount of low-income and affordable housing to government buildings, parking lots and commercial space. Cities nationwide repeated the trend. Now, political winds have shifted; most view Central City housing as elemental to a healthy economy and vital downtown.

Salt Lake City’s rebuilding effort has been successful in one regard. In June, the University of Utah released a study called “Affordable Housing in Utah Cities: New Construction, Building Fees and Zoning” to gauge Utah cities’ affordability. The study ranked Salt Lake City fifth for total new affordable units of residential construction, with 43.21 percent of all the city’s new housing units built between 1997 and 2002 qualifying. Since 40 percent of city households fell below 80 percent of the median income—the cut-off for households defining moderate income—Salt Lake City gets a passing grade. By contrast, nearby suburbs Sandy and Draper offered only 17.87 and 12.34 percent, respectively, of affordable housing.

But the often confused terms “affordable housing” and “low-income housing” don’t mean the same thing—and when it comes to the latter, the city falls short.

According to Rosemary Kappes, Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Housing Authority, affordable-housing properties target moderate-income households that can afford to pay one-third of their income on housing. While low-income is generally associated with government subsidy, it also defines housing that poor people can afford—poor people being those who make less than 30 percent of the median income. As downtown is gentrified, over 7,000 people wait on a list with the Salt Lake City Housing Authority for government-subsidized housing. Some may wait as long as five years.

Funk now works for Crossroads Urban Center, an ecumenical charity located in a historic, 100-year old home at the heart of Central City. He has a poster of Einstein next to what looks like a handmade Christmas card tacked to the wall of his cramped office. Funk fires up his Mac, hands over a recent Harvard University study called “The State of the Nation’s Housing” and tells of how Hipwell and more than 100 low-income tenants fought Boyer Co. 29 years ago by refusing to vacate rental properties.

Barnard, Lopp and Lodmell chimed in. Here’s how they tell it:

In 1974, Boyer Co. had plans to build the state Board of Education building at 250 E. 500 South, and they were buying up parcels of land. The owner of Ute’s Top Shop, an auto-upholstery business located where Boyer planned to build, refused to sell. Boyer promised to relocate the shop nearby at 228 E. 500 South, where Hipwell and Barnard shared two halves of a duplex. Boyer purchased the land. Barnard flew the coup, but Hipwell stayed put.

According to Barnard, the process of evicting Hipwell threatened to take too much time, and he wouldn’t move of his own accord. After the city denied Boyer a demolition permit for the duplex, the company applied for a permit to remodel it instead. In a letter to the Salt Lake City Planning and Zoning department, then-Vice President of Boyer Co. Kem Gardner wrote, “It is our intention … to acquire a remodeling permit that will allow us to convert the existing duplex structure from a two unit to a one unit structure by removing the west half.”

Boyer sawed Hipwell’s duplex in half, separating it from Barnard’s former legal clinic, leaving a “hole in the attic of the other half of the structure where Hipwell [was] still living,” says a Nov. 18, 1974, Deseret News article.

When Hipwell finally did move, he purposefully exited stage right to one of the three nearby apartment complexes that Boyer had also planned to demolish. The developer evicted Hipwell a second time, says Barnard.

Gardner sheds a different light on Hipwell’s second eviction. “Melvin Hipwell was an interesting case,” he says. “We’d bought that old building. He was living there. [When] we evicted him and it was raining, he wouldn’t accept any offers to relocate. When the sheriff put him down on the street, we said, ‘You can stay in here longer.’ [But] once he got back in, I had to go through the process of re-evicting. But we got him out and got the building.”

Hipwell’s actions influenced other tenants, who laid in front of bulldozers, formed an activist organization called “Union of the Poor” and won relocation money and assistance through numerous lawsuits filed by Barnard. But eventually, the company got its way. Some 53 units of low-income housing came tumbling down.

Boyer’s wrecking ball demolished four housing structures on the block between 500 and 600 South, and 200 and 300 East, including the Brockbank apartment building. The company displaced 45 families and left almost nothing but blacktop behind the 85,000-square-foot three-story Board of Education building. Boyer did leave behind the 96-year old Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church surrounded by a sea of parking.

In 102-degree afternoon heat, congregant James Green, Bible in hand, recounts details of Trinity’s history. He remembers when homes, churches and “mom and pop” grocery stores comprised the bulk of Central City neighborhood.

“My wife used to walk out of her front door and come straight to Trinity’s door,” says Green.

An unsigned letter, found at Utah Historical Society, portrays the consternation of residents, like Green: “The bull-dozers have ripped out the Brockbank! Most of the housing on that block is gone. So is much of the other housing. The speculators and the wheeler-dealers own most of Central City above [600] South. It’s gone. The housing is destined to be pulled out, piece by piece, like aching teeth, until nothing will be left.” The author asks neighbors to rally for zoning changes to allow for only “one and two-family dwellings, small apartments, schools and churches” in the neighborhood.

Funk believes the event shaped political policy. The development was “a seminal event,” he says, an example of “what was happening in the downtown area and the Central City area … as the commercial interests in the Central Business District expanded out. They’ve torn down, literally, hundreds of downtown low-income units since then.”

Gardner, now the vice chairman of Boyer Co., chalks up his part to the follies of youth. “I’m much more politically sensitive now,” he says. “At the time, when I was young, I didn’t see it a problem to tear down old dilapidated houses. I now do better.” Gardner adds that Boyer Co. just “completed 350 units [of housing] down at the Gateway.”

But Lodmell, who spent time in jail for protesting Boyer’s development, still feels the sting of battle. “We sandbagged the whole block. We stood in front of bulldozers and Brian Barnard had to bail us out. It was quite a time. We had up to 2,000 people in a rally standing in front of these houses.”

Lodmell now works for Colorado Cross Disabilities Coalition as a social worker and organizer. He tells similar stories about neighborhoods displaced in the ’70s by the Internal Revenue Service building (50 S. 200 East), Tri-Arc TraveLodge (now the Red Lion Hotel at 161 W. 600 S.) and Ken Garff’s Mercedez Benz Center. The latter displaced a single mom who lived in a rental home on Garff’s property and would eventually become Lodmell’s wife, Linda Blakely.

“The whole thing started because Ken Garff [tore] down Hamilton Court,” says Lodmell. “They went in and broke all the windows out. Linda Blakely stood her ground and said she wouldn’t move … She and her four kids got thrown out at Christmas that year.”

Linda and her four children had “nowhere to go,” she says. “It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re a single mother with kids. No one [wanted] to rent to women and kids.”

Bob Garff, owner of Garff Enterprises, says his diseased father purchased land to expand the dealership, which now takes up most of a city block-100 East, 500 South and 200 East, 600 South-over a 70-year period. “The majority of the homes were old, dilapidated and in need of extensive repairs,” he adds. “Some of them were potential health hazards and would have needed a lot of money to bring up to standard. In some cases, people welcomed it [development] because they couldn’t afford to fix it [the home] themselves.” Garff notes that Lodmell was likely renting a home whose owner decided to sell for these reasons.

Regardless of circumstance, Linda Lodmell knows first-hand the tragedy that can result from poverty, homelessness and a mental disability: Linda’s daughter and Dick’s stepdaughter Kelley Jean Lodmell—who’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia—awaits trial for allegedly kidnapping and drowning her granddaughter in the Snake River.

On a rainy Tuesday morning in June, Mayor Rocky Anderson drove a backhoe during the groundbreaking ceremony for Library Square Condominiums, an affordable housing complex with 29 units, of which six are designated for low-income buyers. Utah Community Development Corporation will build the condos where Boyer halved Hipwell’s duplex.

Randall Carlisle, television news anchor for ABC 4, City Council member Nancy Saxton and architect Kin Ng spoke about the benefits of downtown living. Funk and Barnard attended.

Barnard can watch the construction from his office windows next door. The lawyer, who’s known for overturning liquor-advertisement laws, representing animal rights activists and fighting sodomy laws, works in a humble-looking office with the Bill of Rights posted in the entryway. When asked about his history of taking controversial cases, he simply says, “It’s fun.”

Of the condos, Barnard says, “It’s interesting that we were trying to raise consciousness about low-income housing and the importance of living downtown. Obviously, the government wasn’t interested. Now we’ve come full circle.”

According to the press packet, the condos aim to attract “new Utah pioneers” who are “tired of urban sprawl and want to limit the use of their automobile.”

Bruce Quint, the executive director of Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that promotes home ownership, says the condos will range in size from studios to two-bedroom units with working space. They start at $90,000 and go up to $175,000. Depending on the size of the down payment, interest rates and whether federal and city subsidies are available, one of the units could cost as little as $600 or $700 a month, says Quint.

“We’re talking about the working class,” he says. “Teachers, secretaries, office workers … we’re not just targeting condos for executives or upper-income folks.” He adds that someone with an income range of $20,000 to $30,000 could qualify to own one of the six condos.

Quint, who lived in Miami during the ’70s, isn’t worried about bad mojo associated with the property’s history. “I think that the trend of bringing people back to downtown is an excellent idea,” he says. “The history of doing this in other cities around the country shows that by providing the increased-housing opportunities downtown, that economic revitalization follows.”

The mayor agrees. “I do think that there has been a downward trend in terms of the affordable housing from the ’70s up until recently,” Anderson says. “[But] we’ve been focusing very aggressively on adding components of affordable housing in just about everything we support, or in every project in which we participate.

“Library Square Condos are an excellent example of what can be done with the mixture of affordable and market housing. Six of the 29 units in that project will be available to people making 80 percent or less of the Area Median Income.”

For a single person, that’s $34,200 a year, while a household of four that earns 80 percent of AMI—or $48,880—is defined as low income. If income is 50 percent of the AMI or below, the household is “very low income.” The 2003 Salt Lake City-Ogden area AMI for a family of four is $61,000.

That’s not most people’s idea of low income. Highlighting the difference between “affordable” and “low-income” housing, Terry Feveryear of Salt Lake City Housing Authority says that the population most in need earns 30 percent of AMI or less.

To help people of such modest means find affordable housing, the federal government builds Section 8 housing complexes, where the subsidy is tied to the complex and the city Housing Authority manages it. The federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also issues Section 8 vouchers. Holders can use the voucher to pay for housing in any private-sector apartment where the landlord accepts them. In addition to federal subsidies, state organizations, nonprofit charities, county and city programs fund affordable and low-income housing.

A working mother who earns $6 an hour should pay around $300 per month for rent, says Rosemary Kappes. “[Salt Lake City’s] affordability compared with other places is relatively OK, but if you’re earning $6 an hour, that doesn’t help you very much,” she says. “There’s a great need for more subsidy to help people with their rent and for more very targeted housing.”

Kappes admits Salt Lake City has the largest federal-subsidy program in the state, with an estimated 12 million dollars a year going to landlords in the form of Section 8 vouchers. But she also points out an excess of rental housing: Almost 9.5 percent of all rental units in Salt Lake City are now vacant.

With a climbing apartment-vacancy rate, and recent U.S. Census Bureau data that shows Salt Lake City’s population has declined by almost 500 people since 2001, does the city do enough to target the low-income population that needs housing most?

While the answer is hard to come by, the money trail is easy to follow. Salt Lake City Corporation Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development dishes out cash for housing in Salt Lake City. HND receives federal HUD money, city Redevelopment Agency money and, this year, $800,000 from the city’s Olympic legacy jackpot. HND doles out the greenbacks to the city housing authority and nonprofit affordable-housing developers like Community Development Corporation. The mayor, City Council and a board appointed by both decide who gets how much. Both the city Housing Authority and Redevelopment Agency are quasi-governmental organizations that are legally separate from city government. Both buy and sell property for low-income and affordable-housing development.

Dave Oka, executive director of RDA, says the organization is required by state law to spend 20 percent of its take on affordable housing. “We establish a redevelopment area [where] the tax base has stabilized or even gone down. RDA goes in there and upgrades to make the area’s tax base go up. Tax “increment” [the difference in the taxes paid between the original value of the land and the redeveloped value] goes up. Then [that money] is reinvested. We take 20 percent and direct it toward housing.” The rest is used to pay operating costs and fund improvements in the redevelopment area.

When asked how RDA projects come about, Oka said, “We look for the project that is most appropriate for the area. It’s up to the board to turn down our recommendation.” The RDA Board is comprised of City Council members.

“Well, we’re not doing enough fast enough, but I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due,” says Council-member Saxton. She credits the city and nonprofit groups like Community Development Corporation with being “leaders of providing low-income housing and affordable housing.”

“Those days of having projects are gone,” continues Saxton. “We finally learned that we need to assimilate all walks of life together and it makes for a better community.” She describes three housing projects recently funded by RDA, but says, “I don’t think we gave enough [money].”

The solution, according to Saxton, may involve proactive collaboration with non-profit entities since they are “light years ahead of even the City Council.” She says the city should bond for a city housing trust fund in addition to the RDA’s fund and the state-run Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund.

Mayor Anderson says the housing solution for those earning minimum wage involves “creating conditions where people are paid a living wage.” He blames the Legislature for prohibiting cities from requiring a living wage. “I feel strongly that sort of decision ought to be left up to each municipality, and yet the Legislature denied all of the cities and counties home-rule prerogative.” Typically, living-wage laws allow units of government to require companies that contract with them to provide a designated wage for people working on those contracts.

At the risk of “sounding like a revolutionary,” says Sen. Ed Mayne D-West Valley City, “Mayor Anderson is absolutely correct.” Mayne, who is also president of the Utah AFL-CIO, fought against Utah’s law that prohibits counties and cities from requiring contractors to pay more than minimum wage. He estimates a livable wage in Salt Lake City is almost $11 an hour, including benefits. Minimum wage workers earn $5.15 per hour in Utah.

“We’re in the dark ages here,” says Mayne. “Once people start realizing who’s suppressing their wages, benefits, and their ability to raise their families with dignity within their communities, maybe we will get some people elected who will repeal that reprehensible law.”

As for the recent proliferation of condos, Anderson offers, “Well, we promote home ownership. That doesn’t mean that we want to undermine apartment owners. You really need both, but with interest rates as low as they are, we’re seeing a fairly good increase of people [who are] … able to get into homes for a really good deal.”

Meanwhile, 20 minutes, three disconnects and countless FM 100 songs later, someone finally answers the phone at Salt Lake City Housing Authority. The receptionist tells another person to come in, fill out forms and add her name to the list of 7,000 people.

Perhaps the thousands who need help will hold out because they have to—like the elderly residents of Brockbank apartments held out in 1974. Lopp, now a retiree living in Denver, tells the tale: “Six people refused to move. They said they’d get the sheriff. They just sat there. As long as they were there he [the developer] couldn’t do anything with the equipment. It finally got down to where he wanted to meet with the core group. He showed up at Al Larsen’s apartment. He said, ‘OK, I’m prepared to make an offer to each of you.’ It was around $1,500 that he would pay. He said, ‘Will you take a check?’ Al Larsen said, ‘No, I will only deal with presidents.’”