Utah Affordable Housing Advocates Seek To Avoid COVID-19 Budget Cuts

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Garden Loft apartments under construction in August 2019, at 100 West 600 South. The project was built with assistance from the state’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund. Advocates for the underprivileged in Utah are urging lawmakers in cash-strapped states not to cut nearly $ 10 million they approved before the pandemic for affordable housing.

Advocates for the underprivileged in Utah urge legislature to keep money for housing even as lawmakers make major funding cuts to balance damaged state budgets the pandemic.

Another COVID-19-related special session is scheduled for Thursday and lawmakers say they may have to reverse hundreds of millions of new spending approved in their regular session earlier this year, as well as make further “in the bone” cuts of up to 10% or more in the budgets of many state agencies.

Lawmakers on Republican-dominated Capitol Hill hope to somehow cover the declines in the state’s revenue from the coronavirus.

But advocates for low-wage workers and the homeless in Utah are asking them to leave untouched what they claim is a vital $ 10 million set aside to spur new construction and housing preservation. affordable.

Funds, set aside in early spring with the passage of SB39, would direct $ 5 million towards bonds to finance the construction of affordable housing and $ 5 million towards the saving of existing homes otherwise slated for demolition or renovation that would put their rents out of reach.

Officials from 18 nonprofit advocacy organizations say they would rather see the state borrow money and dip into more than $ 1.7 billion from the state’s “rainy day” fund and ‘other budgetary reserves to cover the COVID-19 gap than to make massive cuts in housing, social services. public expenditure on services and education.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City highlighted the continued impacts of rising rents and declining housing within reach of middle-earning Utahns as a major contributor to homelessness – long before let the pandemic strike.

“If we are serious about making episodes of homelessness short, rare and non-recurring, we need to invest in housing and support services for people on the brink or already experiencing homelessness,” Jean Hill told late last week, in a joint statement with other groups.

Recent estimates suggest that Utah lacks about 53,000 affordable housing units and that a large portion of Utahns spend a third to half or more of their income on housing, making them vulnerable during a financial crisis. Some economists warn the state could lose ground in narrowing this affordability gap in light of an expected slowdown in housing construction linked to the pandemic.

Tara Rollins, executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition, urged residents and advocates to call on state leaders and executive committee members for the legislature’s appropriations in hopes of saving SB39. Passage of the bill, she noted with others, only came this year after many failed attempts as rents and house prices rose in Utah at rates almost record.

“We can’t afford another year without investing in much needed affordable housing stock in Utah,” Rollins recently told supporters.

Private donors in Utah announced in early March the creation of a new fund intended to preserve between 500 and 800 affordable housing units; the $ 5 million spent under SB39 for housing preservation was seen as essential public support for this effort.

Fund organizers said two weeks ago that with the help of Zions Bank, Intermountain Healthcare and the Clark and Christine Ivory Private Foundation, they had already helped buy and save 46 homes under the by agreement with the Salt Lake County Housing Authority, known as Housing Relier.

An official involved with the fund said on Monday that the way its deals are structured with a mix of public and private leveraged loan funds, that $ 5 million from SB39 will be amplified to up to $ 50 million. gains for the housing market.

“There’s no better time for housing preservation and stability than right now,” said Michael Parker, senior economist at Ivory Homes, Utah’s largest home builder. “And that’s money that can fall into the streets quickly.”

The remaining $ 5 million from SB39 also has a broader impact on the market, supporters said, providing what is known as “gap funding” to developers of affordable housing, with some estimates showing that the he money could fuel up to $ 120 million in economic activity.

This stimulus, according to Bill Tibbitts, hunger and homelessness advocate at the Crossroad Urban Center in Salt Lake City, “will create a decent number of jobs while making a real dent in our affordable housing shortage.”

It will also help avoid worsening a housing shortage exacerbated by the latest economic downturn, he said, when housing construction slowed.

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