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Cities Without Affordable Housing Faced With Two Choices Under Bill: Build More Or Pay For Shelters

Whittney Evans

Utah lawmakers are pushing forward with a measure to motivate cities around the state to either build more affordable housing and homeless shelters, or help shoulder the cost of them in other communities.

Although homelessness is often referred to as a statewide issue, it’s usually only a handful of cities that host shelters and provide services to those without a roof over their head.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, wants to fix this inequity with legislation that presents cities with two options: either build more affordable housing units or a pay a fee that helps fund homeless shelters.

“My bill requires no city to change their zoning. It requires no city to host a shelter ... if they want to zone for half-acre, quarter-acre lots? OK. Help us pay a small portion of putting the people up in shelters that will continue to grow and burgeon because there’s not housing for them to step into in their communities," he said during floor debate.

After a lengthy and sometimes heated debate on Wednesday, H.B. 462 cleared the Utah House of Representatives in a vote of 49-15.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee of Clearfield was among a small group opposed to the bill. She called it less of an an incentive than a mandate.

“This feels kind of like a sin tax,” she said. “If we can’t immediately put affordable housing in our city, then we have to pay this tax to the state.”

Eliason’s bill would raise about $3.3 million for homeless shelters. It will next head to the Senate with less than a week left in the session.

“At the end of the day, the answer to homelessness is housing, housing housing,” said Eliason.

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