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Housing, Homeless Projects Gain More Funding From Legislature

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Julia Ritchey, KUER
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The Utah House meets on the final day of the Legislature, March 9, 2017.

Utah lawmakers set aside millions more for homelessness and affordable housing efforts this year, though still short of what advocates had hoped for.

In the final 48 hours of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed two major bills to fund new homeless shelters and address an affordable housing shortage.

House Bill 441 would funnel close to $10 million dollars toward the construction of two new homeless resources centers in Salt Lake City as well a third in Salt Lake County.

Pamela Atkinson is a longtime community advocate for the homeless. She says she’s very pleased with how the Legislature prioritized homelessness this year.

“The funding is almost where we wanted it to be,” she said. “I think considering all the priorities up here, including education and the prison and everything else that’s going on, I think the leadership and the legislative bodies did what they could.”

Lawmakers on Thursday also gave final approval to Rep. Becky Edwards’ House Bill 36, which would allocate close to $7 million in tax credits over 10 years to affordable housing projects. Another $2 million would go into a new investment fund for landlords willing to convert their existing stock into lower-priced rental units.

Tara Rollins is the executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition. She says the approved funding is less than they had hoped for, but it’s a start.

“I think they’re seeing the need to do more,” she said. “I’ve always said we need to break down the silos, if we don’t break down the silos we’re not going to win.”

Much of the funding will go toward developing housing targeted at people making about $10 an hour, a population currently under-served by area housing stock.

Rollins says a recent study from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition estimated a shortage of 47,000 units statewide for those low-income earners. 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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