Governor highlights bills to help Utah homebuyers, but will they make a difference?

Mar 28, 2024, 5:39 PM | Updated: 7:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — With high prices and high mortgage rates, buying a house can seem impossible.

State leaders say they’re trying to help.

Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday highlighted several new bills he just signed into law that are aimed at getting more buyers into the market.

The question is, will they work?

Gov. Cox celebrates bill signing

Surrounded by state leaders, Gov. Spencer Cox signed several bills Thursday designed to help homebuyers. (Greg Anderson, KSL TV)

‘It was tricky’

Navigating Utah’s housing market can feel stressful.

“I’m happy to be out of it,” said Anne Stuart, who just moved into a new house in Lehi with her family last week. “Glad to be done.”

Stuart owned a home before, but she said the market is difficult right now.

“It was tricky with the interest rates,” she said. “And with the home prices at the same time.”

But she’s thrilled to be here.

Anne Stuart

Anne Stuart is glad her recent home purchase in Lehi is over. High interest rates and prices made the process tricky. (Greg Anderson, KSL TV)

“The houses are newer,” Stuart said, standing on the street lined with new homes built by DR Horton. “They’ll last longer. There’s not as many repairs.”

Gov. Cox wants to build 35,000 starter homes over five years. In Lehi Thursday morning, he ceremonially signed into law several bills he said will make that happen.

“We’re going to be giving money to help developers build more houses, more affordable houses,” Cox said.

Gov. Cox

Gov. Cox wants to build 35,000 starter homes over five years. (Greg Anderson, KSL TV)

That’s through a new temporary program, created via HB572, which will lend state money to developers at cheaper rates to construct owner-occupied housing.

Another bill, SB168, streamlines the approval process for modular housing. Bob Worsley, CEO of ZenniHome, said those houses are built cheaper and quicker in a factory.

“These are beautiful homes. They’re built to the highest standards,” Worsley told KSL TV. “They’re nothing like the modular homes and trailer homes of the past.”

Yet another bill, HB13, aims to help developers build infrastructure, like roads and sewers, faster.

Will these bills do anything?

“I think they move the needle,” said Dejan Eskic, a housing analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, of the housing bills passed by the Legislature.

But, Eskic added, don’t expect big changes right away.

“I think our expectation needs to be in years, not months,” said Eskic. “It’s going to take a minute for the market to adapt and for cities to figure out where to put new starter family zones and stuff like that.”

Others worry these bills are not enough.

Andra Ghent, Ivory-Boyer Chair in Real Estate at the University of Utah, told KSL TV in an email, “Starter homes are a non-starter without statewide land use reform.”

That is, changing the process for how developments are approved at the local level.

“We think we’re good,” Cox said in response to a question about whether the Legislature should have imposed new zoning requirements on cities and counties.

The governor said legislators worked “very closely” with the Utah League of Cities and Towns on these laws, and he believes they will “incentivize [municipalities] so that we can start to build more starter homes in their communities.”

Still, Cox added, he’ll have his eye on the results.

“We think we’ll see more of these new starter home zones moving into our cities,” he said, “and if not, we’ll reevaluate next year.”

As for Stuart, it’s an exciting time for her family as they settle into their new house and look forward to the future.

“With this type of home, it’s not just a starter home,” she said. “We could stay here for years.”

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Governor highlights bills to help Utah homebuyers, but will they make a difference?