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Legislators cut affordable housing programs

Despite Utah's hopping economy, lawmakers have directed $1 million less to affordable housing programs than they did last year.

Hard hit is the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, which is set to receive $1.5 million if current budget proposals hold. That's down from $2.75 million in 1997. One million dollars equates to 150 affordable homes for Utah families, said Mark Maxfield, a Midvale broker and chairman of the Utah Housing Coalition.The cut comes as lawmakers are supporting a resolution, sponsored by Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, that calls for the trust fund to be funded to a self-supporting level of $100 million. It now has about $21 million.

Those mixed messages hurt Utahns who need affordable housing, says Whitney Rearick, an advocate for Utah Issues.

"Our senators and representatives want us to know they care about affordable housing, but where's the money?" Rearick said.

Forty nonprofits and businesses have co-signed a letter to lawmakers asking that $6 million be appropriated to the trust fund.

Maxfield said lack of affordable housing will hurt Utah's hot economy. With an almost nonexistent unemployment rate, businesses are in need of more employees. But people can't afford to move to Utah because of the housing crisis, Maxfield said.

Over 21,000 Utahns are on waiting lists for public housing, and one-third of Utah renter households can't afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

"It's hard to be a wage earner and a taxpayer when you don't have a place to live," said Brian Dale, with the Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities.

The Olene Walker trust fund is used to help families gain self-sufficiency through housing. Money is loaned with a 5 percent yield and matched 8-1 by money from other sources. And, Maxfield said, it turns over seven times in local economies through participation by contractors and other businesses.