David Olsen, Moab’s community development director, shows the plan for the proposed new affordable housing development. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

Last Tuesday the Moab City Council voted to submit an application for a grant to help pay for a new 60-unit, affordable housing complex. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) would help to pay for the infrastructure side of the development, which is to be built near the intersection of Hwy. 191 and Millcreek Dr.

The housing development, which is estimated to cost $8.3 million, is being developed chiefly by the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU), with the help of the Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation, Hogan Construction and Sellers Management.

The proposed project would be very similar to the recently built Cinema Court affordable housing, located on Millcreek Dr., across from Gravel Pit Lanes bowling alley. The new project hopes to emulate the success of Cinema Court.

“Cinema Court filled up within a week of getting the certificate of occupancy,” said Fremont Woodward, the executive director of HASU. “That testifies to the demand.”

“(Cinema Court) is filling a niche Moab really needs. We wouldn’t have been able to afford a place of our own otherwise,” said Noelle and Curtis Tripp, a young married couple now serving in Moab through Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA).

And like the Cinema Court project, eligibility for the new apartments would be limited to those families making at or below 50 percent of the area median income, according to the project proposal.

The lack of affordable housing in Moab is an issue that has been growing for the past several decades.

“One of the major problems is that the housing market in Moab over the last 20 years has been distorted by out-of-town people purchasing homes,” said Ken Davey, Moab’s administrative analyst and economic development specialist.

This has created a large shortage in the supply of low- to medium-income properties, as those that used to be rented out to these demographics are increasingly being owned as second homes.

Due to the scale and seasonality of Moab’s service industry, many of the town’s residents only make 60-70 percent of the region’s median income. This translates to the average annual salary in Grand County being $12,000 to $13,000 less than in surrounding counties, Davey said.

It was to help rectify this disparity that Cinema Court was built.

Moab’s planning director, Jeff Reinhart, believes that the people of Moab are becoming more interested in living in these types of denser, more community-oriented developments.

“We are seeing a shift in where are heading. We have a lot of underdeveloped sites in the city and those are the areas we are looking at developing,” he said.

This shift will also be reflected in the city’s updated Master Plan, where housing will be of paramount importance. And the proposed low-income development will help to further that vision, Reinhart said.

“This project is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “But it certainly won’t resolve everything because the (housing) shortfall is pretty significant.”

Another concern that has been expressed by Moab residents is that the low-income housing projects are creating a polarized real estate market, with options for low- and high-income families, but little left in between.

“There is definitely a shortage of working class housing. The problem is that there is no government money for that,” Davey said. “We are hoping that creating low-income housing will free up other places in town to have lower rents.”

If all the funding comes through for the new development, it will be about two years before the project would be completed and the units ready for tenets, said David Olsen, Moab’s community development director.

The CDBG grant, at $250,000, if awarded, would represent a relatively small percentage of the total $8.3 million cost. The grant would be allocated to the City of Moab from the Southeast Utah Association of Local Governments, which receives the money from the state.

Moab has been successful in getting CDBG grants in the past because so many of the city’s projects fall into the funds highest priority categories, such as affordable housing.

“Blanding and Monticello aren’t even trying (for this grant) because they know they won’t get funding because we are doing housing projects,” Olsen said.

In the past CDBG grants have been used in Moab to help fund many projects, from reroofing the Virginian Apartments, to the Center Street Ballpark bleachers, to the Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center.

The remainder of the affordable housing projects funding would come from selling tax credits awarded to HASU by the Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation, Woodward said.

If the push to make the project into a reality succeeds, the city believes that the new units will likely be just as sought after as Cinema Court’s.

“We have a responsibility to businesses and people in this town and what we are hearing is that low income housing is one of the most pressing problems facing our community,” Davey said.