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People want affordable housing, and Utah’s governor wants the Legislature to fund it

A photo of Spencer Cox standing at a podium.
Trent Nelson
The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters on Dec. 15, 2022 during a monthly news conference.

Gov. Spencer Cox is asking for $150 million for affordable housing initiatives in next year’s state budget. The legislature set aside $55 million for those programs in the 2022 legislative session.

The $55 million appropriated this year funded 17 affordable housing projects. The state received over $168 million worth of applications.

That demand is fueling hope that lawmakers will carve out more room in the budget for affordable housing in 2023.

We're not even six months into proof of concept,” said Cox during a Dec. 15 news conference. “We're in the process of proving that concept. My hope is that by the time we get to the end of the legislative session in March … we will be able to show the legislature that we’ve been good stewards of that money.”

A recent report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute found over three quarters of Utah residents can’t afford to buy a home. In Salt Lake County, rent has also risen by an average of over $300 dollars a month since 2020.

Housing advocates maintain that continued investment in affordable housing will be necessary until other factors fueling the affordability crisis are addressed, like stagnant wages and low housing stock.

“Until we have better solutions on the policy side, we're going to continue to have to invest. And I think it is a wise investment,” said Utah Housing Coalition executive director Tara Rollins.

Current state-funded projects are set to deliver over 1,000 affordable housing units across Utah. According to Cox, the results so far have been encouraging.

“I do believe they are working,” Cox said. “I really do … the data that we're seeing coming back is really hopeful that these programs actually do make a difference.”

The funds made available by the state only partly cover the cost of affordable housing projects. The rest of the money comes from developers or nonprofit organizations.

With high demand for affordable housing and organizations willing to step up and build it, a strong case could be made for more money in the coming years.

“I am very hopeful,” said Rollins. “The Utah Housing Corporation and the Commission on Housing Affordability have been really coming together and have a much better understanding of how the money will be spent and really how much this will help in the investment of our state and the communities that we want to have thriving.

The state legislature is expected to approve a budget for next fiscal year in March.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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