Despite big push to address housing crunch, Utah Legislature strips $24 million from affordable housing bill

Despite big push to address housing crunch, Utah Legislature strips $24 million from affordable housing bill

(Laura Seitz, KSL File Photo)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — It was a mixed bag for local issues during the 2019 legislative session — with efforts to place new requirements on cities to plan for affordable housing, to bills that would limit laws regulating gravel pits and plastic bags.

While some of those bills survived the session, others fell flat.

A high-priority affordable housing bill — backed by housing and advocates for the homeless, as well as developers — ultimately passed the Utah Legislature, but only after its $24 million fiscal note was wiped to $0 the last night of the session.

Absent of any additional money to pump into a state fund used for loans and grants to help develop moderate income housing, SB34 cleared the House and Senate on Thursday.

Its sponsor, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said the money was a "casualty" of tax reform wrangling that complicated the budget, and he planned to revisit the issue during the Legislature's summer special session.

Though Anderegg was "disappointed," he said the bill was still a major step to encourage affordable housing through new policy.

If signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, SB34 will encourage more cities to pave the way for affordable housing in their communities by leveraging their eligibility for about $700 million in state transportation funds.

Another affordable housing bill, HB386, which would have allocated $20 million for affordable housing preservation, was lowered to $3 million but still failed in a Senate committee.

State vs. local control

Last year's battle over the inland port continued, as did the divide between Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the City Council over the issue.

Biskupski went to war, filing a lawsuit challenging the very existence of the port authority. Meanwhile, the City Council worked to tweak and later endorsed HB433, a bill that allows the port to expand its reach into even the furthest corners of the state, where rural areas want to partner to maximize exports of coal, oil or alfalfa. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Other bills exerting state power over cities made their way through the session but either were watered-down or fizzled.

One bill, HB288, caused a stir in cities, including Draper, where residents breathe dust of gravel pits because it would have created protection zones for gravel operations. Previously, the bill would have taken away local governments' power to regulate the pits, but before it cleared the Senate and House late Thursday night, it was scaled back significantly to give cities more say.

A renewed effort from last year's failed attempt to block cities like Park City from banning plastic bags gained some traction but ultimately stalled after it was literally shouted down on the House floor — twice. Two voice votes and division vote of 43-32 blocked the bill from even being debated.

There was another small win for cities during the 2019 session when Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, pushed through HB148, which would loosen the state's hold on cities' anti-idling ordinances.

Arent initially aimed to remove the state's three-warning requirement before cities could cite illegal idlers, arguing it weakened the ordinance to the point it was unenforceable.

But the version that gained traction and ultimately passed reduced the requirement to only one warning — a small victory for cities aiming to educate motorists to do their part to reduce air pollution.

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Katie McKellar


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