The Utah Legislature is considering a bill this session that would put tens of millions toward building and preserving affordable housing, as well as offering rental assistance to low-income families at risk of eviction.
Senate Bill 39 would appropriate $20.3 million in one-time funds and $10 million in ongoing funds to the state’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which “develop(s) housing that is affordable for very low-income, low-income and moderate-income persons as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),” according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Of this money, $15 million would fund bonds for private investors to develop affordable rental housing, the bill’s text says. Additionally, $5 million would match private dollars for the preservation of existing affordable housing units and $300,000 would be used to assist predevelopment costs for affordable housing projects in rural Utah.
“So it’s not just (going toward housing) along the Wasatch Front,” Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, the bill’s sponsor, said during a Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee meeting last Tuesday, adding that a lack of affordable housing “is a statewide issue.”
Anderegg said the bill was put together based on discussions and recommendations from the state’s Commission of Housing Affordability, which he serves on.
The bill would also put money toward “rental assistance for families with children that are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless,” according to its text. Rental assistance may include subsidizing rent payments, subsidizing temporary or transitional housing or providing money for application fees or deposits.
Anderegg said statistics show that the vast majority of people are evicted solely for financial reasons, as opposed to being evicted for drug use or other criminal activity, adding that allocating these funds would save the state money in the long run.
“(It’s) an ounce of prevention versus 10 pounds of intervention,” he said.
The Senate committee approved the bill 2-1 last Tuesday, sending it to the Senate for a full vote. That vote has yet to take place.
A number of people testified in favor of S.B. 39 during the committee meeting, including Nelson Lotz of the Pioneer Park Coalition, Bill Tippets of the Crossroads Urban Center and Jaycee Skinner of the Salt Lake Chamber.
Kristin Brown, a board member of the Food and Care Coalition in Provo, said the bill would be good for the state’s homeless population, 10% of which is served by her organization.
While the coalition provides rehabilitation and other services to those experiencing homeless, the biggest obstacle the people they serve face is that “they have nowhere to live” since there is so little affordable housing, Brown said, adding that there are particularly few one-bedroom apartments.
Mike Ostermiller of the Utah Association of Realtors expressed “enthusiastic support” for the bill, which he said “won’t totally and completely solve the problem, but … it will make a significant difference and move us in the right direction.”
“These people that we’re helping through this funding, through this legislation, they are tomorrow’s homeowners,” Ostermiller said. “They’re tomorrow’s real estate investors, tomorrow’s employers, tomorrow’s taxpayers. And anything we can do to help them is good for the state of Utah, it’s good for our economy and it’s the right thing to do.”
Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, who chairs the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee, said he opposes the bill and that the true solution to making housing more affordable is to change the state’s zoning laws.
“I’m really struggling with this bill from a philosophical standpoint,” McCay said, “because I know the problems with zoning.”
Anderegg said he also had concerns about zoning but that he felt this didn’t take away from the importance of funding and incentivizing affordable housing.
Anderegg told the Daily Herald in January that running an affordable housing bill this session was a big priority for him. He added that there are aspects of the bill he doesn’t support but felt he needed to run it since it reflects the will of the Commission on Housing Affordability.
“Even though … as a conservative Republican, there are aspects of the bill that I’m not entirely thrilled with,” Anderegg said.