Journal of Housing & Community Development

Designing Around Obstacles

August 14, 2020

The Housing Authority of Salt Lake City wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Project Design for developing 9th East Lofts Apartments, a mixed-use Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

Originally the home of a Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, the 9th East Lofts Apartments at Bennion Plaza is a 68-unit mixed-income community developed by the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City (HASLC). The Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) is not only near the 9th East Light Rail Trax station, but also meets the “walkable community” criteria, with human-scale design elements like brick façades, street-level retail spaces, and a community plaza. The design, professional property management and neighborhood integration had turned an old, vacant and derelict facility into a vibrant, environmentally conscious and desirable community.

Currently, the Salt Lake City Canal runs below the .57-acre site, and the six-story building has five levels of wood over a concrete podium as well as an underground parking garage. Fifty-four of the 68 apartment units are reserved for residents earning 25-50 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), and 28 are earmarked for residents earning more than 80 percent AMI. Of these units, 9 are for individuals with a physical disability, 4 for survivors of domestic violence, 4 for veterans, and 4 for formerly homeless persons. The community also features 2 commercial spaces, an online leasing office, exercise and game rooms, two electric car charging stations, and Bennion Plaza, a community space in the building’s front. Housing Assistance Management Enterprise (HAME), a non-profit instrumentality of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City (HASLC), manages the property, and it has participated in all aspects of development, lease-up, and ongoing resident services. 

Fitting a development on a small site—in this case, just over a half-acre—required some creativity and flexibility. The lot was extremely challenging both from a design and construction standpoint. Only a third of the lot was buildable due to the large canal pipe system that bifurcated the site in all directions. The canal’s location and its easements pushed the entire building to the southwest, forcing a planning commission review process to approve construction changes. Another issue was that the historic canal prevented entry into the lower garage and therefore needed to be moved. The design and construction team were required to lift the entire building four feet and move the canal approximately 25 feet to make the slope to the parking garage functional. These obstacles led to the creation of the beautiful raised plaza along 9th East that is available for commercial customer and resident use. 

The 9th East Lofts was designed to meet both LEED for Homes Midrise and Energy Star Multifamily High-rise construction standards and is currently tracking five points above LEED Gold certification—with certification projected for later this year. It accomplished this, in part, by having the wall assembly incorporate continuous insulation on the exterior of the sheathing, resulting in a tight building envelope which was then coupled with high-efficiency mechanical systems. 

This project was developed in cooperation with the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA) as the first Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) sponsored by the Salt Lake City Corporation. A write-down of the land value by the RDA, and a direct loan of $750,000 in low-interest SLC Housing Trust Funds were the foundation of the financing for the project, whose total cost was $14,976,555. Funding sources included equity from Enterprise Developments Community, and low-interest loans from Salt Lake City Housing and Neighborhood Development, Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund (a Utah State Administered fund), and the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. The Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program provided the majority of the project’s equity. 

These funds helped to create a vibrant, TOD and resident-driven community that was awarded the New Urbanism (AIA/CNU) Merit Award, Utah American Institute of Architects / Congress for the New Urbanism, 2017. The innovative design and experienced property management also brought about a lease-up that beat all expectations. 

In the end, a challenging site and budget tested HASLC’s creativity, resulting in some beautiful innovations and an affordable, walkable, service-filled community. 

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