Utah, as former Gov. Mike Leavitt insightfully noted, is “small enough to see our problems, and big enough to solve them.” This maxim, as our state continues to grow, is at the core of who we are.

Our housing strategy in Utah transcends mere construction. It’s about empowerment and understanding the broader economic and community health impacts of our policies and laying the groundwork for a more prosperous, affordable future.

Empowering communities through innovative housing strategies

Recently, a pivotal event epitomized this philosophy. Leaders from Zions Bank, Intermountain Health and the Utah Impact Partnership convened a cross-sector assembly — bringing together figures like Gov. Spencer Cox, Congressman Blake Moore, Scott Anderson, Clark Ivory, Lisa Eccles, Jim Sorenson, Harris Simmons and Rob Allen — to discuss our state’s affordable housing crisis. This was not just a meeting, but a unified effort to support both existing and future housing solutions to showcase Utah’s commitment to meaningful action.

Building and creating deeply affordable housing

Dejan Eskic, senior research fellow and scholar at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, highlighted a stark reality: For every household earning 30% or less of the state’s median income, there are only three housing units available per 100 households.

In response, Utah’s government has allocated $100 million over two legislative sessions to create 1,500 deeply affordable housing units. This initiative is a crucial lifeline. It offers stability and hope, especially vital for individuals with disabilities, by enhancing community support and well-being. The Utah Impact Partnership has been instrumental in mobilizing $30 million in public and private resources, focusing on supporting our most vulnerable populations and reinforcing the crucial nexus between housing and essential services.

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Protecting existing housing and future investments 

The Utah Housing Preservation Fund, with over $50 million in state funds and $100 million in private equity, plays a crucial role in preserving affordable housing. Since 2020, it has preserved 768 units, saving tenants $3 million compared to market rents. Its approach, expanding to various counties, focuses on stabilizing rents and preventing displacement, demonstrating a 10X impact on the state’s investment.

Bridging the gap from renting to owning

Utah faces significant homeownership challenges, with the eighth highest median sales price in the nation. The Rocky Mountain Home Loan Fund and the Utah First-time Homebuyer Program are instrumental in increasing homeownership accessibility, turning the dream of owning a home into a reality for many families.

The urgency of building more starter homes

In addressing Utah’s acute housing shortage, Cox’s FY2025 budget proposal outlines a strategic plan to construct 35,000 starter homes over the next five years, aimed at bridging the state’s growing 30,000-unit housing gap. This initiative, pivotal for tackling Utah’s position as the eighth most expensive state for housing, includes a $30 million investment in deeply affordable housing, $10 million for the Utah Housing Preservation Fund and $150 million to support the starter home project. This comprehensive approach underscores the importance of affordable housing as a foundation for individual well-being and a thriving economy, and it demands swift legislative action to turn this vision into reality.

Comprehensive solutions and housing

The Utah Legislature’s focus on housing, mental health, land use, tax policies and reducing regulation aims to make inputs from labor to everything else more accessible and affordable, driving affordability, wellness, happiness and prosperity. Their understanding of housing’s role in the overall well-being of Utahns is crucial and increasingly necessary.

Utah’s housing initiatives showcase our state’s capacity for innovation and collaboration, uniting public funds, private investment and community resources to address housing shortages and enhance the quality of life for Utahns. This collaborative model, a testament to what can be achieved when diverse sectors unite for a common goal, reminds us that it takes a village to build a thriving community, especially as it grows.

On behalf of the Utah Impact Partnership, we take pride in our community’s dedication to making impactful, targeted efforts. Our commitment is to create and implement solutions that address urgent needs, paving the way for a brighter, more prosperous future for all in our state.

Michael Parker is the executive director of Utah Impact Partnership.