Ben Carson, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, paid a visit to the HUB of Opportunity, a mixed-use real estate development located within a Salt Lake County opportunity zone, on Thursday. Carson also serves as the chairman of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
The HUB of Opportunity, a 200,000-square-foot facility currently under construction, has been designed to maximize land use as well as public transit and economic development as a way to address critical housing and workforce issues. What makes it unique, however, is its focus on individuals with both physical and mental disabilities.
The facility is completely compliant with the American Disabilities Act, according to Cori Swisher Anderson, the marketing manager with R&O Construction, the company building the facility. It features elevators, wide hallways and tall ceilings, and will have 156 apartments when it is finished.
Twenty percent of the apartments will be “market housing,” sold or rented at the market rate, while the rest will be reserved for people with disabilities. The building will also feature a specialized employment training center for young adults with autism, in partnership with the Columbus Community Center. The building will be complete and ready for people to move in next spring.
Carson had nothing but praise for the HUB and what it has set out to achieve, as well as what made it possible — public-private partnerships, he said.
“The important thing is that it’s been done with a combination of federal, state and local funding, as well as some of the nonprofits and others who have gotten involved,” he said. “I think that’s really the key.”
Out of over $41 million of funds invested in the property, a little over half came from federal low-income housing tax credits, with the rest mostly coming from local Utah organizations and charities.
“When things are done this way, and when things are done in private-public partnerships ... you have ongoing appropriate maintenance,” Carson said. “In the past when the government would do things, it wasn’t done with a lot of forethought or afterthought, and certainly not a lot of ongoing maintenance.”
The primary focus of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Carson said, is helping people “climb the ladders of opportunity” if they can, and making sure those who can’t are taken care of.
“This (facility) fits in very nicely with that,” he said. “It’s being done in such a way that it makes (people on the autism spectrum) employable ... these are people who can work very well.”
Opportunity zones were created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with the goal of “stimulating economic development and job creation in low-income community by incentivizing long-term capital investments.” The incentive offers capital gains tax relief to investors who invest in designated opportunity zones. There are 46 designated opportunity zones in Utah; 15 of them are in Salt Lake County and six are in Utah County.