The shuttered Ramada Inn that was intended to provide housing for the homeless has now been sold to the Miller family – “This demonstrates the lowest moral point our city has ever been in,” according to Rocky Anderson.
Mayoral Candidate Rocky Anderson says that Mayor Erin Mendenhall either lied about the homeless housing numbers or was woefully misinformed about the status of one of the largest permanent supportive housing projects.
Current Mayor Erin Mendenhall has been attending debates and campaign events claiming that she and her administration have built 777 permanent supportive housing units. She said that her administration is proud of its accomplishments when it comes to providing shelter for the unsheltered.
Rocky Anderson has called her out in her claims, and in examining Mendenhall’s claims he has found that in reality, Mendenhall has had just 330 housing units built on her watch. Others, Anderson said, were built prior to her administration and the Sandy transitional housing facility still has yet to break ground.
The False Calim
The primary false claim that Mendenhall makes is that she included housing at the Ramada Inn facility. Back in 2020, the Ramada located on North Temple and Redwood Road was operated by the Road Home. According to records, the state put $2.3 million into transforming the facility into a winter-overflow shelter for 168 clients. Another $ 1 million was used by the Mayor from Covid funds. This total comes out to $13,690 per client for their four-month stay. Due to staff shortages, the facility didn’t open as the winter overflow until February of 2021. After this usage, the facility was slated to provide housing for the homeless.
Local developer Keith Warburton was awarded a $2 million grant from the city’s Homeless Housing Grant Funding Recommendations to convert the Ramada into housing. This plan was similar to how Carol Hollowell had converted the Airport Inn into permanent supportive housing under her non-profit Switchpoint. Mayor Mendenhall and the City Council determined to provide the developer the funds on the basis that he would develop the property into permanent supportive housing with a deed restriction.
According to a story by the Salt Lake Tribune, even after securing another $1.8 million loan from the RDA, the project stalled for months. On the Utah Stories Podcast, Markosian inquired, “If indeed permanent supportive housing for the homeless is Mayor Mendenhall’s top priority, then why would you not follow up and see that the nearly $4 million offered to the developer is actually moving forward and used to provide housing?”
It turns out that Mayor Mendenhall did follow up to an extent. According to one of the tenants at the Ramada, Mayor Mendenhall attended a BBQ event in July that Warburton also attended where two out of 200 units were completed and shown to the Mayor.
When Warburton was awarded the grant in September of 2022, the timeline was for half the units to be completed by April 2023, so that the homeless residing in the winter overflow shelter in Millcreek could transition into the facility rather than go back out onto the streets.
Why didn’t the Mayor express any concern or outrage when just two units were completed by July? Utah Stories has reached out to the Mayor’s office asking this question. This was their response:
“City officials learned over the summer the developer had not secured the primary construction loan (the City funding is considered gap financing) and had been working without a building permit. City officials continued to work with the developer until early fall, when it became evident work was not progressing and the developer ceased to respond to communications with the City’s Building Services Division.”
Rina Rogers is the Director of Mental Health America of Utah, (MHAU) was renting the front portion of the Ramada facility for the past year. Rogers told Utah Stories, that Warburton’s efforts never appeared to come even close to aligning with the massive effort that would have been required to be on track.
MHAU was providing mental health services to the unsheltered, but not long after moving into the facility, problems began arising. Garbage began piling up and a severe mouse population began “getting out of control,”said Rogers. This was happening because the garbage removal bills were not being paid.
Later, in August, the water was shut off for two weeks, resulting in the other tenant, the Star of India, wasting thousands of dollars in food and shutting down for two weeks, giving away their food for free because they couldn’t operate their restaurant.
According to Rogers, Keith Warburton blamed the former tenant who he says never paid the water and garbage bills. The prior tenant was the Road Home, who managed the winter overflow shelter. It became clear to the tenants in August that Warburton was not making sincere efforts to renovate the building.
After eleven months it was clear that the project never got off the ground and “cease and desist” orders were being posted around the building. Still, Mayor Mendenhall included these undeveloped units to her final tally of “777 affordable housing units” to Salt Lake City’s unsheltered population, until the former Mayor Anderson called her out on it at the last debate.
With the Ramada now shuttered and empty, fenced off with no immediate plans for any development, this claim by Mendenhall, according to Rocky Anderson was a “Dereliction of duty, this brings our city to the lowest moral point we have ever been in.”
Mendenhall’s rebuttal is that at least the city isn’t out any money because Warburton never actually used the funding from the city “Those funds were in an escrow account and never released to the developer.” said the spokesperson for the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office (Director of Communications) Andrew Wittenburg. Apparently, Warburton never sought to obtain the “deed-restriction permits” for permanent supportive housing to officially begin construction, in order to receive the funds. Further, he was breaking the law in the efforts he made, working without city permits. However, this detail is unconfirmed because Utah Stories is unable to reach Warburton.
Anderson’s rebuttal to that argument is that, much more importantly, the city is out of nearly 200 units that could have given unsheltered homeless people shelter before winter, which could save their lives. According to Anderson and Rogers the Ramada Inn property has been sold to the Miller Family. Development plans are still unknown. All around the Redwood Road and North Temple site, apartments are rising. Few of them are “affordable” or “deeply affordable”.
Utah Stories attempted to contact Keith Warburton of ETNA Properties. Currently, their website is down. The question we would have for the Mayor’s office is: Did the city or the RDA conduct any sort of vetting of Warburton or ETNA Properties before choosing his company to develop the Ramada properties? ETNA’s Facebook page only indicates that they flip residential properties. ETNA also owns the City Inn, and another property in Tooele, which leases somewhat affordable housing to low-income individuals. Why would Mendenhall and the City Council choose this developer, with little to no experience in redeveloping large motels with such an important function? The Mayor’s Communications Director responded by sending us a link to the City Council minutes, where we would assume this vetting process took place.
Utah Stories will continue to investigate Warburton and ETNA Properties and attempt to get answers from Mendenhall’s office. Utah Stories has invited Mayor Mendenhall on the Utah Stories podcast for the past few months. She has not responded. Utah Stories believes a thorough investigation needs to be conducted to better understand the connections Mayor Mendenhall has with developers who give her campaign contributions and receive huge city handouts like Warburton and Joell LaSalle. LaSalle received the Utah Theater for free after donating $30,000 to Mendenhall’s campaign.
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