October 07, 2018

Housing First model for crime victims is promising for west side communities

|||| |||| ||||

by Turner Bitton 

As a resident of the west side, you’ve likely received a knock on the door or a flyer in the mail offering to buy your home today. “We pay cash for houses” is quickly becoming the calling card for our slice of heaven in Salt Lake’s booming housing market.

“The other day I had two different guys knock on my door and offer to sell my house. My kids were in the backyard and one of the guys acted like a salesman. He said he’d sell my house so fast that I could get my kids registered in their new school before it started. I’ve been here for almost 16 years and it seems that the area is going to be the new Sugarhouse,” said Jen, a resident of Glendale who’s last name has been withheld because of the personal nature of what she shared. “When I moved here in 2002 it was to get away from my ex-husband who was threatening to kill me and my kids. I was lucky to buy a home when I did because if I tried now, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I can’t imagine what other women who are leaving abuse will do.”

Many people like Jen, who have been victims of crime, face the reality of escaping victimization through the lens of affordability. She says that she stayed with her abuser because she wanted to have the security and stability of homeownership. “I chose to stay because I didn’t want to raise my kids in a shelter. I had a beautiful home and all of my friends and family were around me. I didn’t want to lose that. My kids deserved better,” said Jen.

She took a part time job and began to secretly save money. When she felt she could make it on her own, Jen moved into Glendale. It was the only place she was able to find an affordable apartment. She purchased a home a few years later, down the street from the apartment that became her refuge.

The choice to remain in one’s community and home rather than risk losing the quality of life is a heart-wrenching choice made by victims of crime every day. It is a decision that is made even more difficult in a market defined by frenetic sales and ever-increasing prices.

Jen’s story is an example of a much larger issue for residents of the west side – affordability. A lot has changed since 2004 when she bought her home but one thing has remained the same – the security of owning a home of her own. This security and the other benefits of home ownership appear to be disappearing for other victims of crime as housing demand remains unmet and prices soar. According to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau the median home price in 2004 for a home her size was $75,755. Today, the same home’s median price would be $212,000.

In 2016, California became the first state in the nation to adopt a Housing First model using Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding to provide access to housing that is not tied to preconditions and doesn’t require the victim to enter a shelter prior to receiving services.

The Utah Office for Victims of Crime recently began a pilot program for ten agencies to submit competitive proposals and receive up to $200,000 to create victim-centered housing throughout the state. The purpose of this pilot program is to establish long-term solutions to stabilizing housing challenges faced by victims of crime. The pilot features enhanced data which will be used to evaluate housing stability issues statewide for crime victims.

The west side of Salt Lake City has long been a safe haven for people looking for a sense of community and an affordable alternative to downtown. The “housing first” model for crime victims provides a unique opportunity for people like Jen who relocated here to rebuild their lives. 

While data and successes are still being collected, the survivor-driven housing pilot program holds great promise as a model for ensuring that people impacted by crime will have the opportunity to call our community home. Jen says she hadn’t heard of the “housing first” model but believes in it wholeheartedly. “I would have left a lot earlier if I had more help. I was so afraid that I would be making my kids live in a shelter, hidden from their friends and family. The west side became a safe haven for me and I hope that the pilot program can create ways to help more people.”