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Utah Legislature Advances Two Bills To Encourage New Affordable Housing Construction

Utah lawmakers in Senate committees approved two different bills to support affordable housing Tuesday.
Brian Albers
Utah lawmakers in Senate committees approved two different bills to support affordable housing Tuesday.

The Utah Senate advanced two pieces of affordable housing legislation Tuesday. One bill is aimed at making it easier for people to build basement apartments. The other creates grants to encourage low income housing development in rural areas and to help tenants having trouble paying their rent.

Basement Apartments

One bill tries to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units, like mother-in-law and basement apartments.

The proposal loosens some of the zoning and construction regulations. It also provides funding for loans to homeowners who want to build these types of apartments and rent them out to low-income tenants.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, sponsored the bill and said part of Utah’s housing issue is there’s just not enough of it.

“Housing has become more expensive, and in my mind this is largely due just to the logic of supply and demand,” Ward said. “If we constrain the supply while there is still a high demand, the cost will go up quite a bit. If we allow adequate supply, it will stay in balance.”

Former Salt Lake City Councilmember Søren Simonsen spoke in support of the bill. He said he helped craft Salt Lake’s accessory dwelling unit policy.

“I have developed accessory units within housing, I lived in an accessory unit and I have two children who are college-aged that are looking for places like this to live,” Simonsen said. “We desperately need this kind of housing.”

Ward has worked throughout the session to make the bill more palatable to cities, who saw it as an overreach in their zoning authority.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns, which represents more than 200 municipalities across the state, took a neutral position on the bill after its latest amendments.

The legislation passed a Senate committee on a 5-1 vote and now goes to the full chamber for debate.

Grant Programs

A bill by Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, that creates housing related grants also passed the Senate Tuesday after being watered down.

The bill creates grants to help developers create low-income housing in rural areas and grants for tenants having trouble paying their rents. Those programs would cost the state $800,000, which lawmakers have included in their budget.

“Our cost of living has not kept up with inflation,” Anderegg said. “That has this downward pressure when someone can no longer afford whatever, and they get pushed down into those lower rental[s], the lowest end of that gets pushed out. And there's not a very sufficient market for what we're doing in there.”

Anderegg stripped a section that would have allowed cities to create inclusionary housing ordinances, which requires developers to designate a certain number of units as moderate-income housing.

“This came both as a joint agreement between the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Realtors Association and Home Builders Association, we pulled out the inclusionary zoning portion that just needs to be worked on,” Anderegg said. “I think in concept, we're really close to coming to an agreement, but there's no way we're going to get that done in the next four days.”

The legislation allows government agencies to give land that they own to developers for create housing that is at least 20% affordable.

Anderegg also removed a section of his bill that created an affordable housing pilot program for school district employees. The program would have used state money to help school employees purchase a home. Anderegg said lawmakers could potentially explore that again down the road.

The Senate approved the legislation unanimously. It now heads to the House, which must pass it by Friday at midnight.

Updated: March 3, 2021 at 1:28 PM MST
Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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