written by: Glen Warchol
photos by: Adam Finkle
That GIV Group is the oddest of ducks in real-estate development, is evident in the group’s headquarters on 600 West, just south of the North Temple overpass. GIV occupies the first floor of a high-rise in the westside neighborhood that lies along the multiple Union Pacific railroad tracks. It’s an area once known for working-class rentals, blood centers, seedy motels and an adult toy shop. Now, gentrification is the threat to its identity. A mural of Thelma McDonald, a widow who bought up and fixed neighborhood homes in the ‘50s, towers above the street. “We thought she would want to keep an eye on the neighborhood she did so much to save,” says Chris Parker, a principle in GIV.
In her memory, GIV Group wants the neighborhood to prosper without driving out the original residents. “You’re never going to stop gentrification,” Parker says. “But how do you guide it so that it doesn’t hurt the people who have always lived there?”
As the city grapples to provide more affordable housing, it’s a critical question. The Avenues, Sugar House, Pierpont District, which rose in the 1980s as an artists’ quarter, and even the commercial district across the tracks from GIV’s latest project in the Guadalupe District, are seeing spiraling rents that force working-class residents out. Neighborhoods that have achieved broad mixes in income and diversity—what urban-planners call “liveability”—soon are drained of color by gentrification and skyrocketing rents. (Does anyone know an actual artist living in Pierpont?)
GIVing back with a profit
In an explanation only a tax lawyer could follow, Giv Group represents a unique tangling of development purposes. For-profit GIV.com is a forward-thinking developer all about making money. Change that extension to “.org,” and GIV.org is a non-profit that experiments with ways to bring affordable, sustainable and attractive housing to the Wasatch Front. With a twist: GIV’s socially aware ideas must also generate money that would make them attractive to for-profit developers. “This project is a petri dish to show what a great life at $20,000 or $30,000 a year looks like,” Parker says of Phase 1 in GIV’s Open Project on 500 West. Open will offer 112 units, including 81 set aside for low-income families and people transitioning to a real home. “It’s always healthier in a city to have a mix of people,” he says.
Who is GIV?
In 2011, a group of progressive developers met to decide “what do you want to do with your life,” Parker says. “We decided we wanted to go into neighborhoods that wanted to recover what they were—and to make a little difference.”
Their first program was in Ogden’s once-proud Trolley District.
“In the ‘20s, Ogden was proud to be Ogden,” Parker says. “Then the freeway system destroyed rail travel and the neighborhood tumbled and was grasping to survive. We wanted to remind people of what they were in the ‘20s—not the ‘90s. We wanted them to ask themselves, what is the best a city of our size could do? You start with determining what were you at your best—not just 10 percent better than it looks today.”
A step back in community GIV uses the Pierpont project and the even older Avenues as reverse examples for its westside Guadalupe neighborhood projects. “We want to permanently create a space where creatives are supported and won’t be wiped away when the property values rise,” Parker says. To that goal, GIV has purchased the Rail Events Center.
Parker gestures east from Open’s communal balcony, across the railroad tracks, to the $1,300-per-month luxury apartment developments springing up north of Gateway. “We don’t want that to happen in the Guadalupe,” he says. “Guadalupe is the beachhead. We need to put some rocks in place to slow gentrification.”
The rocks include everything from a ‘50s furniture warehouse, rehabilitated as a community kitchen/dining space and artists’ studios, to rent control for low-income residents (about $500 per month) and a Trax-Front Runner-electric-car pass. Parker says, the buildings soon will be entirely solar powered. “That will keep costs down and get the project a green label.”
Because the project is a model, GIV will share its findings with other developers. Every unit is 632 square feet, with identical appliances. “You begin by being the testing ground,” Parker says. A lot of what is seen as greed and waste in development, he says, “happens because there’s no place you can point to and say, ‘This is what you should have done. You can do good and still make a few bucks.’ ”
The Pursuit of happiness
Exactly what makes people happy with where they live is an obsession of many urban-planners. No, it isn’t just opulent surroundings. GIV is using its Open Project in the Guadalupe district to find some real answers. Money is part of it, but over a lifetime, most people have other ways of measuring quality of life: Families and friends drawn into networks that last generations. “When people are asked in a survey about why they like their neighborhood,” Parker says, “it’s about costs, amenities, views,” he says. “But they aren’t asked, ‘when was the last time you enjoyed a really great meal with your neighbors? Or, do you feel deeply connected? Or, do you feel happy most of the days you are here?’ Those questions change everything.
See more inside our 2018 Mar/Apr Issue.