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Utah lawmaker unveils draft bill to seek $35M for affordable housing

Sen. Anderegg hopes effort is better positioned after last year’s bill was gutted of $24 million

Utah State Capitol Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — After the Utah Legislature gutted an affordable housing bill of its $24 million fiscal note, a new bill has been drafted to secure that money next year.

This time around, the financial request is even higher — to the tune of $35 million.

FILE - Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, voices his concern about SB96, the GOP leadership-backed replacement for the voter-approved Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, during discussion on the bill at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Bill sponsor Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, and co-chairman of the state’s Commission on Housing Affordability, unveiled a draft of the proposed bill to the commission Friday, emphasizing it’s a starting point to position their request ahead of the next Legislative session beginning in January.

While running through specifics of the bill, Anderegg told the commission he’s already presented the preliminary financials to House and Senate leadership, and “it was a good meeting.”

“Now we’ve got to fine tune it and come back to them,” he said.

The draft bill the commission hashed out included a $20.3 million one-time appropriation to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund and a $10 million ongoing appropriation to the Department of Workforce Services Housing and Community Development — all money to be used for affordable housing programs or loans to develop moderate-income housing.

After Friday’s discussion, the commission decided to also include an additional $5 million in ongoing funding request, after lobbyist David Spatafore presented a proposal to attempt to draw down money from about $15 million to $20 million in appropriations the Utah Legislature has made in recent years from the state’s unclaimed property fund — a fund made up of millions of dollars in lost or unclaimed money that is turned over to the state.

Currently, Spatafore said that money is appropriated into the state’s uniform school fund, but he said it’s possible that education officials and school districts would be supportive of using some of that money for a McKinney-Vento voucher program — or a program under a federal law that provides federal money for families with school-aged children who are on the verge of being homeless or are homeless.

“It’s not specific to public education, but it does help stabilize public education,” Spatafore said.

Anderegg, as Spatafore explained how the unclaimed property fund could potentially be a good, stable source of revenue for affordable housing, pumped his fist in the air.

“We can make that argument,” Anderegg said. “A stable household with primary-aged kids is a public education need. Now we’re going to have to sell this, I get this, but there’s money available. I love it when people come to me with an idea and a money source.”

However, Anderegg also acknowledged fighting for ongoing money out of Utah’s general fund is a challenge.

“I know asking for $10 million from the general fund in ongoing money is like trying to find unicorns,” he said. “I’m just trying to get us as much money as we can.”

It’s one way Anderegg and the state’s Commission on Housing Affordability — the body created to dive deep into Utah’s affordable housing crisis and find solutions — is gearing up for next year’s session, despite the half-failure of their bill earlier this year.

While that legislation, SB34, passed — including new policies to push cities and counties to zone and plan for affordable housing — it was stripped of its $24 million fiscal note amid budget constraints and complications from lawmakers’ tax reform efforts that have since carried over into the interim.

Anderegg has attributed the stripped bill to the “scuttlebutt” surrounding tax reform and the budget “held hostage” by those negotiations, while also admitting he and others fell short on explaining exactly how the money will be used.

But heading into next year’s session, Anderegg said he’s hopeful for their revised request — though he acknowledged $35 million might be optimistic.

“Are there guarantees?” Anderegg told the Deseret News in an interview after Friday’s meeting. “No.”

But Anderegg said he thinks he has a better shot this time after being told by House and Senate leadership to “figure out exactly what the request is, get the request in early, and justify the specifics,” including “how many households we are helping.”

“We didn’t do that last year; this year we’ve done that,” Anderegg said.

Pointing to recent estimates that Utah has a roughly 50,000-unit housing shortage, Anderegg said there’s “no way the government is going to cover 50,000 units, but maybe 4,000 to 5,000 over the next three years is an appropriate amount.”

“If we can do 800 to 1,000 this year, it’s a good first step,” he said.

Anderegg said he believes legislative leaders have an appetite to appropriate a significant amount of money to affordable housing initiatives this year.

“That being said,” he added, “I have no guarantees, especially with tax reform.”

FILE - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, to members of the media at the state Capitol.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Lawmakers are still grappling with tax reform, with a special session for this year “still on the table,” according to Gov. Gary Herbert. If that gets hashed out before next year’s general session, Anderegg said that could bode well for affordable housing money.

“If we hold a special session for tax reform and we kind of settle in on what that is and that gets resolved, that makes our pathway much easier,” Anderegg said.

Friday’s draft wasn’t final. The Commission on Housing Affordability is expected to hash out thorough details and perhaps vote to recommend a version in a meeting on perhaps Nov. 18. Anderegg said he’s hoping to achieve a favorable recommendation for the bill from the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee heading into the general session next year.

“We learned from last year,” Anderegg said. “I think if there will be money available, we’re in the best position this year to be able to get it.”