Salt Lake City Leaders Find Redemption, Relief In New Affordable Housing 

Ribbon cutting ceremony for The Aster, a new mixed-use development in Downtown Salt Lake City

Danny Walz, Director of the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) of Salt Lake City, became emotional as he spoke to the crowd at the ribbon-cutting event for The Aster in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday. The mixed-use buildings and the land they stand on have a circuitous and storied development history to match the towering eight stories overlooking State Street at 255 South.

“This project is a story of redemption. Anyone who has been around long enough knows this was an abandoned six-story structure covered in graffiti for a number of years,” said Walz. He chokes up. “So, this is pretty cool.” What replaces that rusted iron and concrete skeleton are three buildings: two mixed-use towers with apartments and retail space, separated by a “paseo” (a mid-block walkway from State Street to Floral Street), and the restored Cramer House—originally built as a flower shop in 1890. 

It’s no secret that Utah is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis, and the need for many is dire. Although the ribbon on The Aster was just cut, a majority of the units in The Aster set aside for people earning well below the area median income (AMI) are already spoken for, according to an on-site member of the property management company EMG. 

One of the new residents, Stephanie Ramirez, spoke to the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony with her young son in her arms. She said she recently made some decisions to improve her life that led to both her becoming a single mother and not having a place to live. “I am trying to do better and to be better and to break generational curses,” she said, and having an affordable place to live at The Aster, she believes, has helped her on that journey. 

Unfortunately, the opportunities for affordable housing are few and far between, in part because the need is so great. More than 70% of Utahns are priced out of the housing market—unable to afford a median-priced home—according to a recent analysis by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

“There is such a sense of relief,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall at the ribbon-cutting. “There has never been a project quite like this.”

More than a decade ago, the acre lot was already home to buildings of affordable housing units—50 or so single occupancy units in the Regis and Cambridge Hotels. The facilities were demolished to make way for more housing units and shops. The development ultimately fell through after construction began—leaving the unfinished building to rust for years—and the project lender foreclosed on the property. The RDA bought the property back at auction in October 2017 for $4 million. Thus began the latest attempt to revitalize the area and bring much-needed affordable housing to downtown Salt Lake City. 

RDA of Salt Lake City selected Brinshore Development in 2018 to build affordable housing on the property, which would become The Aster. Attaining funding for the project, however, was no simple feat. At the final count, the project needed 12 sources of funding to cross the finish line. The fact that it was able to come together, but also that it was a herculean task, presented as bittersweet at the buildings’ opening.

“I want to highlight how difficult it has been to get resources to provide affordable housing because it doesn’t happen naturally,” said Wayne Niederhauser, the State Homeless Coordinator. “I’m a real estate developer turned social worker, so I know what it takes to make a project work. But 12 funding sources is too complex. We would have more affordable housing if we could simplify that.” 

Michael Gallegos, Director of Housing and Community Development for Salt Lake County repeated the sentiment, “That many sources of local funds are often missed in these affordable housing projects. How can we make this easier? I’d like to pursue that. We’d appreciate the opportunity.” 

The sources of funding for the project include: $14.5 million in RDA financial assistance and other public financing came from the Utah Housing Corporation (4% and 9% Low-Income Housing Tax Credits), tax-exempt bonds, the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, state housing tax credits, Salt Lake City’s Division of Housing Stability and Salt Lake County. Architecture and construction partners on the project include KTGY Architecture + Planning and Wadman Corporation.

“This is a flagship redevelopment project for Salt Lake City, as its mix of uses it will provide are unparalleled,” said Mayor Mendenhall. “The Aster’s sheer number of affordable units—including those large enough for families—combined with its creative 3-building layout, block-activating commercial storefronts and public spaces and access points make it like nothing else in Downtown, the City, County or even State.”   

affordable housing: The Area Median Income (AMI) is the midpoint of a specific area's income distribution (in this graphic that area is Salt Lake City). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the AMI on an annual basis. The percentage an individual or household makes of the AMI is used to determine eligibility for affordable housing.
The Area Median Income (AMI) is the midpoint of a specific area’s income distribution (in this graphic that area is Salt Lake City). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the AMI on an annual basis. The percentage an individual or household makes of the AMI is used to determine eligibility for affordable housing.

The Aster project boasts:

  • 18,000 square feet of commercial space (at least some of which appears to be available at the time of this reporting)
  • 190 residential units
  • 168 of those units are designated as deed-restricted to households making 20-80% of the area median income (AMI), over half of those units are set aside for residents making 50% AMI or below, and those units range from studio to 4-bedroom apartments (the remaining units are leased at full market value)
  • Dog wash bays
  • Community room
  • Rooftop patio

The once-flower shop will be the future home of a bar concept from Water Witch. As for that what that will entail, we will have to wait and see. But, rest assured, it will be delicious.

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

Similar Articles