Advocate for homeless says SLC mayor’s budget falls (oh so) short on affordable housing

May 3, 2023, 5:30 PM

After one of the snowiest winters on record, questions are being raised about why there isn't an ac...

Tony Lambert moves some of his belongings at his homeless encampment in SLC on Feb 2., 2023 (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The mayor of Utah’s capital city is recommending $10 million more to build affordable housing for homeless people in the city, but an advocate says the funding proposal is not nearly enough.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is now proposing a 2024 general fund budget of $444.5 million.

“It is critical for everyone to understand our commitment to lowering the cost of living in our capital city. Over the next month, the City Council will consider a combined $20 million in city-led affordable housing investment,” Mayor Mendenhall said on slc.gov.

Since 2020, the mayor said the city has invested more than $56 million in affordable housing, creating more than 4,000 affordable-housing units, representing a 413% increase since 2020.

The mayor’s 2024 budget proposal includes “an additional nearly $10 million for affordable housing.”

Advocate for homeless joins discussion

Wendy Garvin, executive director of Unsheltered Utah, says the mayor’s proposal for affordable housing is woefully insufficient.

“It sounded like you were not happy, personally, not happy with the $10 million to affordable housing,” Debbie Dujanovic said.

“I think that the most important thing to remember is how much housing costs right now. If you’re looking at one of the affordable housing projects that are going up in the city, the base cost to buy the property was $12 million and then it was like $6 or $7 million of renovations necessary to take that, as it turned out an old motel, and turn it into affordable housing,” Garvin said.

She added $10 million is about the same amount allotted to the police chief’s staff.

$10M? More like $150M, says homeless advocate

“How much do you want, Wendy? How much is needed?” Dujanovic asked.

“I don’t know if it’s fair to put all the burden on the city. But I want a lot,” she said. “If we were to spend $150 million for the next two years, we could start to have enough affordable housing to house the people who are unsheltered right now.

” . . . They allocated $110 million for the Police Department. So it’s not as much money as you think when you start to look at what they’re spending each year just for ongoing operations,” Garvin said.

She pointed out that the $150 million figure came from Gov. Spencer Cox’s budget last year.

Utah now has a shortage of about 43,000 units when taking into account people making 50% of the average median income, according to Christina Oliver, the director of the Utah Department of Workforce Service’s Housing and Community Development Division as reported by KSL.com.

“Well, do you have a meeting with the mayor now? Is that next or the City Council or is this just a done deal. And you’ll take $10 million and like it?” Dujanovic asked.

Garvin said the City Council is now taking suggestions from the public. And is also offering up modifications to the mayor’s budget proposal.

 “For the next couple months, we [city residents] can provide comments and see if the council is willing to make changes to the mayor’s budget, and that’s what I’m hoping for now.”


Utah ranks 45th in the country for affordable housing

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Advocate for homeless says SLC mayor’s budget falls (oh so) short on affordable housing