PROVO -- Provo Housing Authority commissioners got an insider's look at the old St. Francis lot on 500 West on Wednesday.

Granted, right now the lot is mostly a big hole on the ground and the Provo Housing Authority's board had the same view that anyone walking or driving slowly down the street would have, but executive director Doug Carlson also talked about some ideas for this lot.

"There's a lot for us to study and to look at in determining feasibility," he said.

The lot, which is about half a city block, has four houses on it; two will get knocked down, one is a historic building and can't be demolished, and one isn't owned by the Housing Authority. Talk between Carlson and the commissioners focused largely on what to do with the historic house, which is not in good condition and will be expensive to repair, and how to work in both commercial and residential property.

"I think it's far better as an office than as a house," commissioner Dave Gardner, who also is a developer, said of the historic building, pointing out that the neighborhood across the street from it is apartments and small houses. "You could do something that would really give this neighborhood a little more punch."

That property, which was acquired in June, is in the early phases of what Carlson called a comprehensive planning process. They have ideas, he said, but first he wants to talk to neighbors, city officials and adjacent landowners, and then they'll move forward.

This land was the third stop in a tour of some of the Housing Authority's properties; Carlson wanted to talk about the future.

The other highlights were the Maeser School in southeast Provo, a 111-year-old historic schoolhouse showing its age that was turned into housing for seniors. The renovation celebrates its age, but without the rickety staircases. It was completed about three years ago and is full of tenants.

The other property was a car dealership on 400 South and University Avenue; Carlson said the Housing Authority bought the property in anticipation of the Utah Transit Authority building an intermodal transportation center a few blocks away.

For now, they're trying to lease it to a mechanic, but eventually it also may become a mix of commercial and residential property.

"The future use of this property is yet to be determined," Carlson said.

Many of the properties that aren't developed might be waiting for a while, since the economic outlook isn't conducive to new development right now. However, the dismal economy has had a bright spot for the organization; they got almost $500,000 from U.S. Housing and Urban Development to make capital improvements to properties. That money, which is on top of an annual HUD grant to make repairs, will pay for covered parking at two buildings for elderly people and resurfacing of a parking lot.

They also are applying for a competitive HUD grant to make energy improvements in some of the buildings that house seniors; this also is funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The bad news from the economy, as on just about every other front, is that more people are in need of housing help, and the amount of help available isn't changing. Carlson said they have 2,581 applications for help, up from about 1,950 a year ago. Everyone on that list should get helped, Carlson said, but it could take as long as a year for the people who are just signing up.

"It's not that we turn them away, it's that we put them on a waiting list, so it just takes longer for us to assist them," he said.

Heidi Toth can be reached at (801) 344-2556 or htoth@heraldextra.com.

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