clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

In attempt to avoid 'crazy changes' in House, Utah Senate passes stricter affordable housing bill

Construction workers work at the Garden Lofts, an affordable housing project being built in Salt Lake City, on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.
FILE - Construction workers work at the Garden Lofts, an affordable housing project being built in Salt Lake City, on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Expecting a fight in the Utah House of Representatives, the Senate sponsor of a bill that would use state transportation tax dollars to incentivize cities to plan for affordable housing agreed to increase the requirements on cities in his bill Wednesday.

With the changes approved, Sen. Jake Anderegg's SB34 advanced out of the Senate with a 20-9 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

The substituted bill — which increases requirements for certain cities to qualify for state transportation dollars — was meant to "take the bullet out of the House's gun," Anderegg said.

The Lehi Republican said the substitute came after he heard word some lawmakers in the House were planning to "target" the bill "to make some pretty crazy changes."

Those possible changes, Anderegg said, include putting at stake cities' eligibility for class B and C road funds — state allocated funds cities heavily rely on — as well as increasing the requirements to more heavily incentivize cities to include affordable housing in their city plans.

Hinging the bill's requirements on the city's eligibility for the road funds would "be a declaration of war," Anderegg told reporters after the Senate vote.

"That would be World War III," he said, adding he'd be "surprised" if the House had the votes to pass the provision, but he said the changes were proposed in an attempt to avoid the fight altogether.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, proposed a substitute to the bill on the Senate floor that would require cities with transit infrastructure to meet four out of a list of about two dozen options to allow moderate-income housing within their communities. It would also require the general requirement for most cities — except metro townships with populations less than 5,000 — to fulfil at least three options.

The substitute keeps city eligibility for state transportation dollars — a fund of about $700 million that comes from the motor fuel tax that the state controls — as the incentive for cities to fulfill the requirements.

"I really see housing as a critical component of long-term economic health," Kitchen said, noting Salt Lake City has seen historic housing vacancy rates amid the state's ever-tightening housing crunch. "We've got to figure out a way to pump additional supply in the market."

But Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, expressed not only misgivings but also suspicion with the bill.

"I hate this bill," Fillmore said. "That's actually overstating it. I'm actually just confused by this bill."

Fillmore quoted Anderegg's own words that many Utah cities are already fulfilling seven to eight requirements listed in the bill, "and yet this is a 'must pass bill' and it's a 'priority bill,'" Fillmore said.

"It strikes me that this bill, by being so important but doing really nothing, is really a vehicle to do something we're not being told it's going to do either in the House or in some future legislation," Fillmore said. "And that just makes me uncomfortable."

Anderegg said he's not aware of any "ulterior motive," but he's "the first to say that this is not a silver bullet."

"This is not going to solve our affordable housing crisis, but it's a first really good step," Anderegg said.

In his district alone, Anderegg said, he's seen massive population growth and he's "sick of seeing the wasted tens of millions of dollars" that occurs as a result of fragmented housing and transportation planning across the Wasatch Front.

"If we don't effectively put the tools in place to plan this right … we're basically saying we're not fiscal conservatives," Anderegg said.