Advocates call on lawmakers to fund bills addressing affordable housing, homeless services

Mar 1, 2022, 9:01 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:51 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — In the final week of the 2022 Utah legislative session, housing advocates are criticizing lawmakers for not fully funding bills that seek to address the state’s affordable housing crisis and services for those experiencing homelessness.

“The number of affordable units in our state is shrinking,” said Bill Tibbitts with the Coalition of Religious Communities. “A lot of the new apartments that are being built cost $2,000 a month to rent. People who become homeless because of an unexpected medical bill can’t afford to pay $2,000 a month for an apartment.”

The Utah Housing Coalition, along with other advocacy groups, held a press conference on the steps of the Utah Capitol Tuesday morning to call on lawmakers to reconsider the funding for two bills.

“At a time when housing is one of the top priorities in our state, we are baffled by the non-commitment of funds by Utah’s Legislative Leadership,” the Utah Housing Coalition said in a press release.

In the initial budget released on Friday, HB462, Utah Housing Affordability Amendment, was not prioritized for the $100 million of funding it requested.

A slimmed-down version of the bill passed the Utah House of Representatives late Tuesday afternoon and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

While SB238, Homeless Services Modifications, was only recommended to receive $55 million of the nearly $128 million it requested. The bill passed the Senate on Monday with the lower funding amount and now goes to the House.

“Affordable housing is one of the top crises in our state, and unless we prioritize investing in affordable housing, we are going to hurt our economy, our children’s education, and our health systems,” the coalition’s statement went on to say. “We are asking our elected officials to prioritize the affordable housing appropriations recommended by the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee.”

At the press conference, some questioned why lawmakers approved tax cuts this session but are not providing more for affordable housing and homeless services.

“To slash those funds, I believe, rips at the very moral fabric of our state’s hope to live in dignity and equity,” said Rev. Steve Klemz with the group United Today, Stronger Tomorrow.

In response, Senate leadership said they’ve funded what’s needed right now for affordable housing and want to track how the money is spent.

“If you spend money without accountability, that doesn’t get the results you want,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “So, I think what we’re doing, we’re trying to get the money out that we can, that we think can be spent.”

Adams said after the analysis of how the money is spent, they will look at future requests. But for this year, he’s pleased with the budget.

“I think it’s a great budget, quite frankly,” Adams said. “Record education spending. Record spending on social services, and if you look at housing, probably a record amount that we’re spending on housing, even though some don’t think it’s enough.”

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Advocates call on lawmakers to fund bills addressing affordable housing, homeless services