American Fork pauses transit oriented development 06

Construction workers work on a soon-to-be-completed balcony at an apartment complex in American Fork on Aug. 1, 2018. 

A bill that would put millions of dollars toward building affordable housing and preserving existing affordable units passed through the Utah State Senate on Wednesday, although its sponsor said the amount of money requested will likely be lowered.

Senate Bill 39, which is sponsored by Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, asks the Legislature for over $35 million for various housing efforts. Of this money, about $15 million would go into a fund for developing affordable housing, and $5 million would match private dollars to preserve existing affordable units.

Additional money would go toward rental assistance “for families with children that are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless,” according to the bill.

S.B. 39 passed through the Senate on Wednesday with 16 senators voting for it and 11 voting against it.

Anderegg said on Wednesday that the bill is the culmination of two years of work by the state’s Commission on Housing Affordability. He called it a “good faith effort” to address the growing need for affordable housing in Utah and assist residents “who are legitimately one life event away from being homeless.”

“We have tried to tackle an exceedingly difficult problem,” Anderegg said Wednesday, adding that he does not think the issue is one the government can solve on its own.

The Lehi senator acknowledged that $35.3 million in funding is a “healthy fiscal note” and said, if sent to the House, the bill would return to the Senate for “some modifications” to the funding request.

“I think we’re very realistic as to the constraints we have in our appropriations process,” he said.

Still, Anderegg urged colleagues to advance the bill “until we have a better idea of what funding can and will be available.”

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, praised Anderegg for his work on S.B. 39.

“You’ve been a great champion of this,” said Adams.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who voted in favor of the bill, asked Anderegg what assistance the bill would provide for Utah’s rural communities.

Anderegg said that up to $300,000 of the funds would go toward affordable housing projects in rural counties and cities. Most likely, Anderegg said, this money would be used to build small apartment complexes and duplexes.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was one of the senators who voted against S.B. 39. On Feb. 4, while the bill was in committee, McCay said he thought the real way to address a lack of affordable housing in the state would be to change the state’s zoning laws.

“I’m really struggling with this bill from a philosophical standpoint,” said McCay.

A number of groups expressed support for the bill during the Feb. 4 committee meeting, including the Utah Association of Realtors, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Pioneer Park Coalition and the Crossroads Urban Center.

Provo Food and Care Coalition board member Kristin Brown said the group supports the bill and they believe it will help Utah’s homeless population. She said the biggest obstacle Utah County’s homeless face is that “they have nowhere to go” after getting treatment because of the lack of one-bedroom apartments and other affordable options.

The bill follows last year’s S.B. 34, also sponsored by Anderegg, which made some modifications to city and county general plans related to moderate income housing, including adding a definition for accessory dwelling units.

While the bill was in committee earlier this month, Anderegg said preventing evictions and investing in affordable housing would be “an ounce of prevention versus 10 pounds of intervention” and save the state money in the long run.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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