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Pair of affordable housing bills advance at Utah Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY — Two bills addressing the affordable housing crisis in Utah advanced in a House committee this week.

HB430, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, creates the Commission on Housing Affordability in the Department of Workforce Services.

Edwards referenced a bill passed last year that created a fund to incentivize real estate developers and landlords to reduce rent and leasing rates for tenants by using loans and enhanced tax credits.

Edwards said the action was "a very important step forward" in dealing with affordable housing, but the issue didn't go away. Having a commission would bring "consistency of focus," she said.

Tara Rollins, executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition, said a task force assembled in 2017 "really started a great conversation, and we need to continue that conversation."

"Right now our population is growing faster than we can put units on the ground, and our wages are not keeping up with our rents," Rollins said.

There are 68,000 Utahns who are making 30 percent of their median area income, she said, and they are paying more than 50 percent of their income to housing.

The committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation and advance it to the House for further consideration.

SB133, sponsored by Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, removes the $250,000 minimum funding required by the legal definition of a "design-build" project.

Mayne said Habitat for Humanity came to her with the proposal for this bill. Her amendment would enable such organizations to build houses for less than $250,000.

Celesta Nagel, director of plicy and advocacy for the Utah Housing Coalition, said "any tools that we can get in our toolbox for affordable housing is greatly appreciated. Housing that people can afford is crucial."

The committee voted in favor of the bill unanimously. The bill previously passed the Senate.