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Community Advocates Want Utah Lawmakers To Keep Affordable Housing A Priority During Pandemic

Photo of houses from the view of a street in Salt Lake City
Emily Means
Bill Tibbitts from Crossroads Urban Center said state lawmakers forgot to prioritize affordable housing during the last recession. He said the need for housing is so apparent that the Legislature should invest in it now.

Utah’s housing advocates are gearing up for a rise in evictions with the end of two federal pandemic assistance programs last week. 

A recent report from CNBC shows nearly 30% of Utah renters are at risk of losing their housing after the federal eviction moratorium expired. And the end of the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits means Utahns will have less money to pay the rent.

Although the Utah Legislature has had to cut its budget to make up for revenue loss during the coronavirus pandemic, Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroads Urban Center, doesn’t want to put affordable housing on the backburner. He said during the 2009 recession, state lawmakers neglected to plan for the state’s housing needs.

“We want to actually be able to say we were proactive back in 2020, and we moved forward,” Tibbitts said. “We made progress.”

Tibbitts said state and city governments can save money by building housing units on property they already own. They could then use bonds to cover other costs, like labor and materials.

Salt Lake County Councilmember Shireen Ghorbani said the county has recently taken inventory of all its available properties. She said they need to look for housing opportunities near public transit, grocery stores and other services.

“When we’re doing that work, it’s important to me that we’re also thinking about accessibility and all of those layers around what makes a healthy community,” Ghorbani said.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said there’s appetite for discussing bonding for affordable housing in the state Legislature as well.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s definitely a magic bullet,” Kitchen said. “It’s an opportunity for us to really talk about infusing a lot of housing units into the inventory.”

Kitchen said Utah can access around $3 billion of its bonding capacity.

Emily Means covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Means13

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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