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MILLCREEK — As dignitaries, government officials and advocates addressed a crowd to celebrate the completion of the Bud Bailey Apartment Community on Wednesday, laughter and squeals of children playing in a splash pad could be heard in the background.
"I can't help but think, 'What a difference a place makes.' When you hear those children, isn't it nice?
"When you hear that sound in the confines of a shelter, it is heart-wrenching. It compels us to work harder, to do more, to find a way out," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, which shelters and provides case management to homeless families, men and women.
But at the newly completed Bud Bailey Apartment Community, the din of children playing evoked very different feel, Minkevitch said.
"Those little angels at the splash pad will go home, dry off and get a bite to eat. They have a home, a love-filled home," he said.
Speaker after speaker remarked that the new community — home to formerly homeless families, refugees, youths who have aged out of foster care, and others with low incomes — was the product of a partnership among government, private enterprise and nonprofit organizations.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro called Salt Lake's collaboration to end chronic homelessness an example for other communities nationwide.
This is a goal of the Obama administration, particularly with respect to chronic homelessness and homeless veterans.
"There is nowhere that is doing a better job of pursing that than because of strong state and local collaboration than Salt Lake City," said Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, who was in Salt Lake City to address the convention of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"Keep it up. Y'all are doing great."
We're very privileged to help a lot of people achieve affordable housing. It's a great foundation for all of the other things they need to do to meet success in life.
–Kerry Bate, director of the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake
While Wednesday's ceremony marked completion of the project, Kerry Bate, director of the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake, owner and operator of the complex, said he was mindful of thousands of other people in Utah who don't have homes or affordable housing.
"We're very privileged to help a lot of people achieve affordable housing. It's a great foundation for all of the other things they need to do to meet success in life. But we still get calls and emails every day from people we can't help. Our waiting lists are closed because right now it's five to seven years before you're called to get some assistance," Bate said.
To qualify for affordable housing units, residents must earn at or below 50 percent of the area median income. The average family of four that lives at Bud Bailey has an annual household income of $18,000.
The 136-unit apartment community is named for Clarence "Bud" Bailey, former chairman of the Salt Lake County housing authority and founder of Bud Bailey Construction Co., who passed away in 2010.
Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said naming the apartment community in Bailey's honor was a fitting tribute to the man, who retired and put his skills and knowledge to work in the nonprofit arena.
"His fingerprints are on Palmer Court. His fingerprints are on Kelly Benson, and his fingerprints are also on Grace Mary Manor," Atkinson said, referring to apartment complexes that house and provide services to people who have been chronically homeless.
Now, the Bud Bailey Apartment Community is home to Victoria Olson, a formerly homeless youth who said she has been on her own since her family turned her out of her Utah County home on her 18th birthday.
"My family decided I was too much of a financial burden," she said.
It was spring break of her senior year of high school, so Olson initially stayed with friends but later ended up sleeping in a park before receiving a referral to transitional housing in Salt Lake County.
Volunteers of America-Utah has helped Olson for about 1 ½ years, she said, reaching out to her when she was camping in a tent and living with 15 other youths in substandard housing.
A month ago, Olson moved into an apartment at Bud Bailey, which has washers and dryers in every unit and new kitchen appliances. Her unit is also housed with furniture donated to Volunteers of America-Utah by a design firm.
"I love it. It's awesome. I really enjoy it," she said.
(Having a place to live) definitely made it a lot easier. It would have been real hard if I were living with a lot of people doing crazy stuff or living in a tent.
–Victoria Olson, a formerly homeless youth
Olson is attending college full time.
"(Having a place to live) definitely made it a lot easier," she said. "It would have been real hard if I were living with a lot of people doing crazy stuff or living in a tent."
Best of all, Olson said she has her very own bed, something she hasn't had since she had to leave home.
Bate said the $28 million project apartment community represented the work of dozens of partners, including Salt Lake County, Utah Housing Corp., National Equity Fund Inc., Morgan Stanley, Zions Bank, Utah Community Reinvestment Corp., Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, American Express, GE Capital Retail Bank, George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, and the Utah Financial Services Foundation.
The complex has a community center that offers educational and employment resources for residents from birth through adulthood. The center houses a computer lab, community garden and exercise room.
Bate said Wednesday's celebration was gratifying considering the project was four years in the making.
"It took a lot of perseverance, and we had some tremendous partners," he said. "It's really exciting and a relief, and we can't wait to start another one."
State and local officials estimate Utah needs 44,000 units of affordable housing to meet current demands. People who can't afford housing double up in houses, apartments or hotel rooms. Others live in substandard housing, shelters or they camp.
"We get calls from a mom with three kids that is living in her car or somebody is being evicted or can't pay their rent," Bate said.
"We do wonderful things in our country, but we've got to keep working on this."