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Without Funding From Legislature, Utah's Affordable Housing Shortage Continues

Photo of new home construction.
Brian Albers / KUER
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For a third year in a row, efforts to fund the state’s affordable housing dearth once again fell short during the 2019 legislative session, as lawmakers struggle to tackle a 40,000-unit shortage.

A $24 million affordable housing bill was stripped of funding in the twilight of the general session amid tense budget negotiations. The bill ultimately passed, but with no money.

“I believe we became victim of the budget problems we were facing as well as the tax reform issue,” said Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, the sponsor of a S.B. 34.

That “tax reform issue” meant lawmakers held off on funding many programs like affordable housing until later until this summer when the governor calls a special session specifically to overhaul the state’s tax code.

“I’m really bummed that it wasn’t able to be funded,” said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake.

Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and problems with housing have spread far beyond the Wasatch Front.

Kitchen said there is a silver lining to the legislation that passed — even without funding. Now, cities that want state transportation funds for road and transit projects will have to create a moderate income housing plan, within their general plan, in order to receive those dollars.

“If you think about affordable housing … it really does come down to supply and demand at the end of the day,” said Kitchen. “So we have to figure out a way to to pump more supply into the housing market and keep up with our growth.”

Another affordable housing bill from Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, to give $3 million to preserve affordable housing already in place never made it out of committee.

Anderegg said he’s cautiously optimistic after being assured by leadership that they may revisit the topic when they tackle tax reform later this year.

Overall, Anderegg grades their efforts a “C” this session, but says providing more money will be critical to incentivizing developers to build affordable units.

“We only did half of what needed to be done,” he said. “At the end of the day, you gotta put your money where your mouth is, and that didn’t happen during the general legislative session.”

The State of Utah maintains an affordable housing database. For information visit https://jobs.utah.gov/jsp/housing/.

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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