Homeless people and housing advocates disappointed with Utah legislature funding

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Although the Utah legislature gave a record $70 million this year to address affordable housing shortages and homelessness, advocates said the amount was less than they had hoped.

And critics worry that legislation intended to bolster emergency beds for cold winters and hot summers could return the state to its old “warehouse” model of homelessness.

Funding Criticism

This year’s budget for housing and homelessness topped last year’s record $50 million, which business leaders matched with an additional $680 million.

But the $70 million allocated this year — $55 million for competitive grants for super-affordable housing combined with $15 million for housing preservation — is still a far cry from the $128 million that Gov. Spencer Cox recommended in its budget for housing and homelessness programs.

Heads of state say they hope the funding provided this year will help reduce homelessness, but they expect to continue spending each year.

“So I can see it as a glass half empty or a glass half full. I’m a glass half full person. It’s more money than ever before,” Cox said last week when he was asked if he was disappointed with the less funding than requested.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, noted that the Legislature has made “significant progress” on both housing affordability and water conservation.

“But I would say actually we’re just getting started, there’s going to be a lot more around those two issues,” he said.

The session ended with lawmakers awarding no more money to housing and homelessness advocates.

Utah Housing Coalition Executive Director Tara Rollins said “never has the state been in a better financial position to invest federal and state funds in housing that people can afford.”

Shawn McMillan, executive director of First Step House, said developers and nonprofits need the support that the funding would have provided.

“These are incredibly powerful tools that allow developers – especially non-profit developers, who are most interested in developing housing for these specialized populations – to cover the cost of services, which are absolutely essential,” said said McMillan.

He urged the legislature to “return their attention” to the “extraordinarily powerful tools that are needed.”

Responding to criticism from the Utah Housing Coalition of the amount spent on housing versus tax cuts, Wilson pointed out that the combined funding this year and last year was “well over $100 million.”

“A lot of the money we put into affordable housing a year ago is still being pulled out, so it didn’t make much sense for us to invest more money than the system could actually absorb. “Wilson said.

SB238 establishes the COVID-19 Housing and Services Subsidy Program for the Homeless, which receives $55 million for highly affordable housing for those earning no more than 30% of the region’s median household income.

The program will emphasize case management for the homeless when distributing funds, as the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, described the lack of follow-up from the state as one of the issues allowing people to return to the streets.

Although he originally asked for $127 million to fund the bill, he said of the $55 million, “We’re happy, we’ll take that, we’ll move forward.”

When asked in the Senate if the money would be enough to solve homelessness in the state after millions of dollars have already been spent over the past few years, Anderegg said it wasn’t likely.

“It’s something we’re going to have to come back to next year and see if we can find continued sources,” he added.

If the funding “goes well and solves a problem,” Wilson said the Legislative Assembly will continue to provide resources “and work on it” next year.

Cox said legislative leaders were “correct to say there was money from last year that we are still working on.”

“And it wasn’t a ‘No’. It was, ‘Hey, let’s do this. And let’s see what works, then come back and do it again and again next year. So I’m very optimistic about where we’re headed and thankful that the Legislative Assembly has set aside so much money for this issue,” Cox added.

Jose Alejandro Vargas Nocelo, 54, who has been staying in shelters in the Rio Grande area for six months, is pictured in Salt Lake City Monday, March 7, 2022. ‘The government is nice, but they need to build more shelters, “said Nocelo.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Will more emergency beds overwhelm wards?

The Legislative Assembly passed HB440, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, which aims to foster cooperation between cities in Salt Lake County by asking them to submit a plan to the state’s office of homelessness to provide adequate emergency shelter space well in advance. cold winter weather.

If no plan is submitted or deemed sufficient, the bill contains a “Plan B,” Eliason said, in which the state would modify the capacity of existing shelters to meet expected demands.

But Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall argued the bill doesn’t really incentivize other cities to step in, because they know the bill allows the state to scale capacity to meet the needs.

Prior to the bill’s passage, it drew criticism from the Pioneer Park Coalition, which also expressed concern about the bill’s flexibility that would allow shelters to increase capacity in the event of a shortage of emergency.

Tyler Clancy, president of the Pioneer Park Coalition, said it could lead to more crime in already overcrowded neighborhoods.

“A quick glance at the Geraldine King Women’s Center on 700 South or the Gail Miller Resource Center on Paramount Avenue reveals how big the promises to prevent vagrancy, camping, drug trafficking and violent crime were empty,” Clancy said in a statement.

“Residents and business owners from neighboring communities have spoken out at town halls and even at legislative committee meetings about their own disappointing and dangerous experiences near (homeless resource centers),” a- he added.

Clancy argued that raising the limits at these centers would put occupiers at risk and “brazenly break promises made to local communities who have agreed to take over resource centers in their neighborhoods.”

Mendenhall told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards that affordable, deeply affordable housing is one of the best solutions to the state’s homelessness crisis. Resource centers and homeless shelters can’t do much, she said, because some people need more help than a temporary shelter can provide.

In some cases, she said, people give up after struggling to find space in shelters, opting instead for tents or other makeshift shelters.

“The fact that a lot of people are saying no is what keeps me up at night,” Mendenhall said.

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Jose Alejandro Vargas Nocelo goes through his paperwork outside the Weigand Homeless Resource Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 7, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Housing affordability

The state also passed unfunded HB462, which requires cities with transit hubs to develop plans for moderate and low-income housing within one mile of those locations.

The bill also requires cities and towns to share housing data with the state to bolster the state’s ability to track inventory.

HB462 was originally seeking over $100 million for the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund and the Rural Housing Fund. But sponsor representative Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, pushed the bill forward in hopes it will be funded next year.

“As we all know, there is currently a housing crisis in Utah. We have some 50,000 more families than we have housing for them,” Waldrip said during a committee hearing on the bill.

“We have very siled information in our cities, in our counties, on what housing products we have, how many we have, what our affordable housing options are,” Waldrip said.

While the Wasatch Front is virtually “running out” of land to build new housing, rural areas don’t have the infrastructure in place for proper housing, Waldrip said.

These two issues need to be addressed differently, he added.

Cameron Diehl, executive director of the League of Cities and Towns of Utah, said the bill builds on lessons learned by city and town leaders across the state as they attempt to pave the way for the development of moderate and low income housing.

The bill will reward cities that go “above” minimum requirements by giving them priority for certain public infrastructure funds, Diehl said. If a city chooses not to plan for moderate-income housing, it is not eligible for those state transportation dollars under the bill.

“The State of Utah is trying to better align how the state spends finite infrastructure dollars with its partners on its land, locally,” Diehl said.

The bill eventually passed the Legislature — without receiving the requested $100 million in funding — despite opposition from some critics and lawmakers who expressed concern about forcing cities to build where it wouldn’t make sense to them.

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A woman walks on Rio Grande Street in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 7, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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