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Utah pledges $50 million for homeless relief and affordable housing

House Speaker Brad Wilson, at podium, announcing $50 million earmarked to tackle the issues of homelessness and affordable housing. Credit: Paul Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s been a $50 million promise from the state legislature to tackle the growing issues of homelessness and affordable housing in Utah. And several prominent philanthropists in the state said they’re ready to match what Utah is paying. 

On Wednesday, Senate, House, and community leaders in Utah gathered outside the State Capitol to discuss how the state intends to allocate funds to address the homelessness issue.

Lawmakers earmarked the $50 million after new revenue projections indicated an extra $1.5 billion in a combination of one-time and ongoing funds in the state’s coffers.

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Some lawmakers say these issues were already getting serious in the state before the pandemic, and they’ve only gotten worse, since.

Rising costs contributing to skyrocketing housing prices

Rising home prices, when moderate, can be a good thing.  But, House Speaker Brad Wilson said the rise in home prices in Utah has outpaced income, squeezing many people out of affordable housing.

“Over the past ten years, average home prices in the state of Utah have risen almost twice as fast as the median income of Utah residents,” Wilson said.

Rising construction costs, like those seen in the lumber market, aren’t helping.

“We’ve seen lumber products go up more than $24 thousand in the past 12 months on our average house,” said Ivory Homes CEO Clark Ivory. “This is killing us and making it very difficult to deliver on any sort of affordable product.”

Ivory said the state legislature has set aside $25 million to preserve existing affordable housing units, and another $10 million will go to the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund.

“They’ll take this $10 million and turn it into a thousand affordable housing units,” Ivory said.

Funds to address homelessness in Utah

Senate President Stuart Adams said Utah is the best state for upward mobility. But he believes the state has to do a better job of caring for the homeless.

“We’ve noticed that in the capital city, homelessness is increasing.  That’s a real concern for all of us,” Adams said.

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The state is paying $15 million to create a new system that governs the needs of the homeless population.  It creates a new framework for the state to oversee these issues that lawmakers believe will be less expensive and more efficient over the long term.

Larry H. Miller Group of Companies owner Gail Miller says she believes homelessness is one of the most pressing issues in the state. She said it can be caused by a number of different factors like unemployment, lack of education, mental illness, addiction, and just bad luck. 

She said this funding will create a state homeless services coordinator who reports directly to Gov. Spencer Cox.  The funding also establishes the Utah Homeless Council that serves as the state’s decision-making body on the issue of homelessness.

“It creates a first-ever coordinated statewide budget for homelessness and it encourages greater philanthropic engagement,” Miller said.

With the state’s $50 million, along with donations from the public, lawmakers believe their investment could translate into $730 million worth of economic impact.