Senior residents clinging to rumors they would be displaced from their current dwelling units by the Provo Housing Authority can breathe easy.
On Wednesday, Robert Vernon, director of the Provo Housing Authority, held three different meetings at two senior housing locations to clarify what is happening with the apartments.
The issue is a multi-year, complicated process. Vernon explained that since 2012 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been trying to divest itself of public housing of which the apartments are a part of. They are cared for locally by the housing authority.
The cost for HUD to maintain housing is growing rapidly each year and is currently at about $70 billion, according to Vernon. That is the cost to maintain and fix up what they already have. Two years ago, it was about $50 billion.
HUD funds local housing authorities to run and maintain those government buildings. Vernon said they only get about 80% of what they should be getting to maintain and fix housing in the area, thus causing a growing gap between needs and the money to fund those needs.
In 2018, HUD started a Voluntary Repositioning program that would take all of the public housing and put it into nonprofits, while keeping the same mission.
Two weeks ago, senior tenants at Valley Villa apartments at 650 W. 100 North and Mountain View apartments at 681 N. 100 West received word they may be displaced from their homes as the transitioning began from HUD and that new buildings would be built.
“There was an audible sigh of relief from the audience Wednesday afternoon at Valley Villa,” said tenant Tim Torkildson. “Robert Vernon started his presentation by assuring all of the gathered tenants that they would not have to move out of their current apartments, but could stay put until a proposed new Valley Villas is completed.”
Tenants would then be moved at the same cost and arrangements they have at present.
“Anybody that would be displaced, we have to take care of them,” Vernon said.
Vernon was concerned about the residents’ uneasiness when they heard of possible demolition.
“The unknown is scary but we have to start somewhere,” Vernon said. “It’s on us to take care of people. It will be a huge win for tenants.”
The two apartments in question are deteriorating and are more than 50 years old.
Vernon said there is still a lot of planning and work that needs to be done, which may not be completed for up to two to three years.
“We still don’t know if we can build up front of the apartments,” Vernon said. “We’ll have to go up four stories. We’ll have to go to the city for a variance. That’s what we want.”
Vernon said right now they are working on the plans and then those must be submitted to HUD for approval. That must be done within 90 to 120 days.
Vernon is hoping HUD notifies them of approvals by mid-year. However, when that happens, Vernon reiterated, “no one will be evicted.”
The senior apartments aren’t the only units of concern. Vernon said throughout Provo there are 248 Provo Housing Authority units. The apartments are for seniors. Scattered throughout the city are 140 duplexes, town houses and single family units as well.
They are all maintained by the housing authority and are occupied by tenants using a voucher system that guarantees they will not be displaced.
With the HUD transitioning, many of these units will be put into a new Community Land Trust Program that will allow for some to be purchased at reduced prices to those who make 80% or lower of the city’s median income.
Vernon explained the Land Trust: “We bought town homes on 400 South and paid $180,000 for them,” Vernon said. “We are putting about $50,000 into fixing them up and making them nice.”
He said two units sold for $250,000 each, but the other units will sell between $175,000 and $180,000. In return, the housing authority signs a ground lease. The tenant owns the home, but the housing authority owns the ground they are on with some restrictions.
“Residents must keep up the property,” Vernon said. “If they sell the home they can only keep 25% of the appreciation of the property. The difference stays in the property for the next buyer.”
Vernon says it’s a proven model and a way to have affordable housing for the next 100 years.