Utah Gov. Spencer Cox ceremonially signed multiple bills on Tuesday related to homelessness and affordable housing in the state, including a bill creating the Utah Office of Homelessness and a bill allowing cities to donate property for affordable housing units.

The six bills were all passed by lawmakers during this year’s general session and were signed by the governor in March.

House Bill 347, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, created the new homelessness office housed within the Department of Workforce Services and also created a state homeless coordinator position within the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to oversee homelessness-related policy in the state. Republican Lehi Sen. Jacob Anderegg was the Senate sponsor of the bill.

During Tuesday’s ceremonial signing, which took place in Salt Lake City outside the building of the nonprofit NeighborWorks Salt Lake, Eliason spoke about the difficulty of addressing homelessness, noting that it’s about more than “just having a roof over your head.”

“We realize that this is just a step along the journey and we’ll look to good things, great things happening (in the future) as we’re able to change the way we deliver services and improve the funding and offer a wide array of services that’s more than just a roof over somebody’s head,” the Sandy representative said.

Cox, who appointed former Senate President Wayne Niederhauser as the new state homeless services coordinator on April 13, praised the legislation and said it will ensure “that the money that we’re spending (on homelessness) is actually making a difference.”

Another bill related to homelessness, H.B. 34, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, requires the Department of Health to apply for a Medicaid waiver in order to provide respite care, which the bill defines as “short-term housing with supportive medical services.”

Dunnigan said homeless individuals in Utah are frequently “cycling in and out” of emergency rooms because “they stabilize you, they treat you, and then they will release you. But your underlying condition is not solved.”

The governor also ceremonially signed Senate Bill 164, a bill allowing cities to donate property that will be used for affordable housing units, in addition to appropriating $800,000 in one-time funding to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund.

Anderegg, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation was the product of years of discussions by the Commission of Housing Affordability and expressed thanks for affordable housing advocates who worked with the commission.

“We couldn’t have done it without a relentless effort every single year to get this done,” the Lehi senator said.

The governor also ceremonially signed other “equality and opportunity” bills, including Republican Sandy Rep. Kirk Cullimore’s S.B. 214, which removes the provision in state code that English is the sole language for the government in Utah, as well as a provision requiring all official government documents to be in English.

“This has been problematic for lots of reasons, but I think this has been highlighted during the pandemic, how problematic this was, and how desperately we needed to make these changes,” said Cox. “We want to make sure that Utah is a place where everyone feels welcome, and where government has an opportunity to communicate with people in their language.”

Other bills ceremonially signed on Tuesday include a bill creating a task force to study food security and a bill creating the Utah Immigration Assistance Center in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

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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