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Gov. Spencer Cox: Our kids need paths to homeownership. Here’s how we can help

Homeownership is core to the American dream. With homeownership, graduation rates increase and teen pregnancy rates decrease, volunteerism rises and crime falls

SHARE Gov. Spencer Cox: Our kids need paths to homeownership. Here’s how we can help
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Alex Cochran, Deseret News

A friend recently asked me what I consider to be the greatest threat to the future prosperity of our state. Without question, it’s the price of a home. 

For far too many Utahns, the prospect of homeownership is out of reach. Just 15% of Utah’s renter households make enough to buy a $300,000 to $400,000 home, according to the latest Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute study. “High interest rates and housing prices will continue to exclude a growing share of renters from home ownership,” the report continues.

Homeownership is core to the American dream. It provides freedom, stability, and the opportunity for upward mobility. It is the No. 1 savings tool for the middle class, and it provides benefits far beyond just wealth. With homeownership, graduation rates increase and teen pregnancy rates decrease, volunteerism rises and crime falls. Families are strengthened and children are healthier. Homeownership is critical to family formation, community building and social capital. 

These are Utah values, and they are in jeopardy if homeownership is out of reach for the next generation. 

To that end, I’ve proposed a package of actions and incentives with the goal of building 35,000 new starter homes in the next five years. This Utah First Homes Program consists of an ambitious $150 million investment in several measures that will help us accomplish this goal:

  • Expanding our First-time Homebuyers Assistance Program, grants which will help prospective homebuyers with down payments, interest buy downs and closing costs, and encourage builders to create affordable homes;
  • Expanding the State Infrastructure Bank to help cities and towns fund the infrastructure needed to build on permitted lots;
  • Launching a new Housing Innovation Fund to encourage new housing technology and regulatory solutions to bring down the cost of housing;
  • Expanding sweat equity programs, so individuals can contribute physical labor toward a down payment;
  • Supporting community land trusts, where homeowners own their home, but lease the land under it; and
  • Recruiting an off-site housing manufacturer, which will accelerate housing production and reduce construction time and costs.

I’ve also hired Steve Waldrip, a former legislator with experience in both housing development and affordable housing, as my new senior adviser for housing innovation. Waldrip is well respected by the League of Cities and Towns and homebuilders alike and will guide this program with local officials, developers and nonprofits to accomplish this ambitious starter home goal.

Over the summer, we asked Utahns to share with us their vision and preferences for Guiding Our Growth. While Utahns are feeling the pressures of growth, most don’t think that we should try to stop it. However, how we grow matters. The majority of the 28,000 survey respondents expressed a desire for smaller, more affordable lots and housing.

Housing unaffordability is a simple factor of supply and demand. In order to bring down prices, we need to increase supply of housing in every area of the state. While condos, townhomes and apartments are part of the overall solution to our housing needs, the focus of the Utah First Homes Program is on detached, owner-occupied, single-family starter homes — the kind that many of us started in ourselves. 

Our children are asking for your help. We need you to work productively with your local elected officials to help them find solutions to our needed growth. Our families need to be able to afford to live close enough that they can go to grandma’s for Sunday dinner, and access quality education and good jobs. And we need to be close enough to them to attend their games, recitals, plays and graduations. 

If we get this right, future generations will be immeasurably blessed. They will have more wealth, more stability, more peace and more connection. 

Please join with me in providing solutions for housing instead of creating roadblocks. Support your local elected leaders as they tackle the incredibly challenging problem of growing wisely. I need your help, and our children are depending on it.

Gov. Spencer Cox is the 18th governor of the state of Utah.