Legislation that aims to boost affordable housing in Utah passed out of the House on a 50-22 vote Thursday in spite of concerns that the bill harms education funding.
HB 36 – Affordable Housing Amendments, which is sponsored by Representative Becky Edwards (Republican – North Salt Lake), increases state low-income housing tax credits that are given to landlords who serve low-income Utahns. Under the bill, the current tax credit of $12.5 cents per person would increase to $34.5 cents per person. In addition, the legislation creates the Economic Revitalization and Investment Fund, which will provide loans to either build affordable housing or convert existing market-rate units. There is also a pilot program to reimburse landlords for the difference between market rates and what federal housing choice vouchers pay out.
Edwards pointed to Utah’s first Affordable Housing Assessment and Plan, which was released earlier this month. The study found that the state has a shortage of 38,447 units for extremely low-income Utahns. “I think there is an important intersection with the efforts that we’re seeing on the homelessness issue. We cannot possibly move people out of shelters unless we have a place for them to live. This is a very, very important piece of that component,” said Edwards.
According to the fiscal note, nearly $1.4 million a year would be lost from the education budget due to the tax cut. Representative Bruce Cutler (Republican – Murray) supports the idea of the bill but objected to taking money away from education to make it happen. “I’m torn. I’m not sure how I’m going to vote, but that’s a concern to me.” Cutler later voted in favor of the legislation.
“I understand the concern about tax credits taking money away from education. I struggle with that as well. I will encourage you to note, though, that for children who are experiencing housing instability and are moving so frequently from different places to live or a shelter in-and-out, they are experiencing educational impact there that require additional services as they move from school to school. Healthcare needs, possibly criminal justice kinds of intersection there, the additional services that are required for a family who is housing unstable is really more than made up by those impacts there,” Edwards responded.
Representative Sandra Hollins (Democrat – Salt Lake City), a licensed clinical social worker who works with the homeless, praised HB 36 for attempting to remedy the affordable housing crisis in Utah. “We cannot begin to deal with mental health issues and all the other issues [surrounding homelessness] until we are able to get people housed and stable and in a safe environment.”
Prior to coming to the House floor, the bill received unanimous approval from the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee Tuesday. HB 36 now moves to the Senate.