Tim Funk, a low-income housing advocate, had a suggestion for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker at a recent meeting: “Whoever is running the [Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency] is somebody that would be better off collecting garbage—because they treat people like garbage.”
The group of advocates met with Becker to discuss issues affecting the city’s homeless and indigent, from panhandling to Medicare, but one issue frustrating Funk the most is how the city is handling its infamous State Street SROs (single-room occupancy hotels), which comprise a number of low-income, pay-by-the-week hotel rooms along State Street between 200 and 300 South.
“I don’t want this to become a difficult issue,” Becker says calmly to Funk’s impassioned pleas. “But, the city is making every effort to make sure everybody has alternative [housing] options.”
In February 2009, the State Street SRO residents were told check-out time would be the first of September. Yet as recently as this month, SRO tenants were told the date has been pushed back until the end of the year.
Also in February, the RDA informed the approximately 40 remaining residents of the Regis Hotel at 253 S. State that alternative accommodations were being developed at a renovated Holiday Inn, now known as Palmer Court, at 999 S. Main. The court, however, only holds 60 former SRO residents, all of who have moved to the hotel. Many who applied could not meet the financial requirements of Palmer Court, which include a source of verified income.
“It boils down to if you have money they can tap into, you can go to Palmer Court,” says Regis resident David Sine, who was rejected by Palmer Court. Sine, 61, has been trying to arrange social support but has not secured benefits to get him into Palmer Court, even if there were current openings. Now, he also worries about what happens if he does get those benefits.
“If I start drawing a pension, they’ll be the first sons-of-bitches coming and knocking on my door asking me to move [out of the Regis],” Sine says. “With a verifiable income, they’ll be down here like stink on shit.”
This drive to relocate stems from the fact that the Regis holdouts are part of a very economically vulnerable demograph ic—and one that the city has already committed to finding housing for when the Regis and neighboring buildings are sold to developers. The RDA says three potential developers have expressed interest in the properties, but no definite plans have been submitted.
RDA executive director D.J. Baxter says in the coming weeks, RDA specialists will be coordinating one-on-one meetings with tenants to discuss alternative housing options. He also says the city is in the process of acquiring the old Rio Grande Hotel building on 300 South as a possible relocation site. Unlike Palmer Court, Baxter says negotiations are underway so that tenants of the Regis can move into the Rio Grande without having to meet stringent financial prerequisites.
“That will be the highest priority for us, so that people staying at the Regis now can be accommodated at the Rio Grande,” Baxter says.
But Regis residents feel like the priority is just to get them out. Residents like Sine have said that the city is forcing the management to tighten up on its policies, such as reconsidering the practice of allowing certain tenants to work off their rent. This policy, if it takes effect, would force out Sine, who has done security for the hotel for the past several years.
For Baxter, the decrepit nature of the SRO buildings means they must be taken down, which requires they be vacated first. “That process will move as fast as we can make it move,” he says. “They are not tenants; they are people staying in a hotel.”
Sine, a 15-year resident of the Regis, feels like he’s losing his home. “RDA will deny everything we say, and we’ll deny everything they say,” Sine says. “All we know for a fact is that [by the end of the year], we’re gonna have 40 people out in the middle of the goddamn street.”