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Housing initiative cornerstone of Gov. Cox’s FY 2025 budget recommendations

By Rob Nielsen - Standard-Examiner | Dec 5, 2023

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, center, discusses the proposed "Utah First Home" initiative in West Haven on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

WEST HAVEN — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is hoping to make pursuing the American dream a little bit more affordable for Utahns starting with the homes they could live in.

Tuesday morning, Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson announced their full budget recommendations and priorities for fiscal year 2025 at a press conference in a West Haven neighborhood.

The centerpiece of these recommendations: a $150 million initiative to build upwards of 35,000 starter homes in the state by 2028 known as “Utah First Homes.”

“As we were looking at this next year and this budget proposal, we were kind of looking for a theme,” Cox said. “This concept of Utah (First) Home came to us very powerfully. Home is an interesting word — it has different connotations and it obviously means different things to different people. … Home is a word that gives a feeling — hopefully for most of us it’s a good feeling, a warm feeling. It’s a place where we’re accepted, where we’re loved, a place where we care about each other, and Utah is home.”

However, he noted that the increasing difficulty of finding a home is hampering progress for many people in Utah.

“The single greatest threat to the prosperity of our state is the price of a home,” he said. “It’s the unaffordability of homes in our state. … At the core of the American dream is the dream of homeownership, and it has been for generations. Generations before us understood that owning a home could change the trajectory of the life of a family. They also understood, I think inherently, that homeownership changes who we are and our investment in a community.”

Cox said one of the most serious barriers to homeownership has been the lack of a certain type of home on the market.

“We’ve stopped building starter homes for the past 15 years across this state, and really across the country,” he said. “Our kids will never be able to call Utah home if we don’t start building starter homes again. There was an article in The Atlantic just last week where economists said if you think housing affordability is going to come back any time soon, you’re wrong. In fact, they estimate you won’t be able to afford a home until at least 2030, and maybe later.”

Enter the proposed Utah First Homes initiative. Under the $150 million proposal, 35,000 starter homes would be built by 2028.

As proposed, money would be distributed in several ways:

  • $50 million for first-time homebuyer assistance programs.
  • $75 million to the State Infrastructure Bank to provide low-interest loans for publicly owned infrastructure that supports housing.
  • $5 million toward design and innovation of starter homes.
  • $15 million toward “sweat equity” programs in both rural and urban areas.
  • $5 million for community land trust expansion.

Also announced as part of the initiative was the naming of former state legislator Steve Waldrip as the governor’s housing innovation advisor.

Cox said it’s a big challenge, but the state is ready to meet it.

“Building an additional 35,000 homes in the next five years is ambitious, but the investments and the incentives in the Utah First Homes program make this entirely doable,” he said. “Utah First Homes will correct a market failure in the housing space and create new opportunities, leading to homeownership for our kids and grandkids.”

He said it’s the state’s youth who this program is ultimately about.

“I cannot emphasize this enough — this is about our kids and grandkids being able to live here,” Cox said. “It’s not about people from other states moving in here — people aren’t selling their big houses in California and coming to buy starter homes in Utah — this is about our kids. This is about our future. This is about the American dream, the Utah dream and keeping the very best of Utah, and making sure it’s available to the next generation.”

During Tuesday’s event, both Cox and Henderson also briefly touched on other funding priorities including transportation, recreation spaces, rural economic development, child care, service opportunities for students, and helping abuse victims. On Monday, the governor also went over proposals for tackling homelessness.


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