Week 5 Legislative Recap: Affordable housing, the death penalty, the Inland Port
Utah is in a housing crunch. One priority state legislative leaders laid out at the beginning of the 2022 general session was affordable housing. Now, they’ve got a few things in play to address that. KUER politics reporter and State Street co-host Emily Means joined host Caroline Ballard to go through what’s on the table for affordable housing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: I know people who are looking to either rent or to buy, to move in some capacity, and it is tough out there right now. This is a very big question, but what is going on with affordable housing?
Emily Means: Yeah, it's a pretty difficult situation here in the state. A report from the Utah Foundation shows housing costs increased 29% from September 2020 to September 2021 — so just over the course of a year. There are a couple of big factors that play into Utah's housing crisis. One is that the state has seen a lot of growth, and the supply of affordable housing options just has not kept up with that demand. Another thing is that Utah's wage growth hasn't risen as fast as housing prices. Now, Republican leaders have chosen to focus on the supply and demand part of this issue.
CB: What does the Legislature want to do about that?
EM: There is a really big push for funding this year. Gov. Spencer Cox had recommended $228 million go toward affordable and deeply affordable housing. A lot of that came from federal pandemic relief money. Basically, they want to use that money to build more units all across the state. But this is one-time money, so it's not an ongoing investment.
CB: How could that funding help very low-income people, people at risk of homelessness and people experiencing homelessness?
EM: Part of this funding could go toward permanent supportive housing. These are essentially apartments that have built-in resources for people who are exiting homelessness. We're talking about case management. We're talking about mental health services — the kinds of things people need to find some stability and stay housed. Homeless advocates tend to agree one of the best solutions to homelessness is affordable housing.
CB: Emily, what else happened in the Legislature this week?
EM: This week's episode of State Street focused on the death penalty repeal bill. On Monday, that bill finally had its day in committee. This was a long, emotional hearing. It was more than two hours long. Supporters of the repeal said capital punishment was a really expensive option and innocent people could potentially be executed. Then on the other side, some families of victims said the death penalty was a useful tool, and they viewed it as justice for terrible crimes. In the end, though, lawmakers voted against it and it failed by just one vote. So that takes it off the table, at least for now.
CB: We have two more weeks of this legislative session, and this time always gets really hectic. What do you see dominating the conversation in these final weeks?
EM: The last couple of weeks of the session get pretty wild. There are some late nights, and there's usually an avalanche of bills that become public that still need to be debated. One thing we're keeping an eye out for is the annual Inland Port bill. The Inland Port is an import/export hub that's planned for the northwest part of Salt Lake City, and each year the Legislature sponsors a bill to tweak the port in some way. This year, we're expecting changes to the Inland Port Authority, which is its governing board. And there's some concern by Salt Lake City leaders that this bill will result in less representation for the capital city on the board.