Solving Affordable Housing: What is the Government’s Responsibility?

Cities all across the country are dealing with a shortage of affordable housing. In Salt Lake City, the problem is exacerbated by a booming economy that has companies moving into the area and bringing new hires with him. Salt Lake City is growing so fast that housing is just not keeping up.

This begs the question of whether or not the government has a role in addressing the affordable housing issue. According to state legislators, it does. The only debate seems to be how much of a role government actually has. Senator Jake Anderegg, sponsor of a bill that would see the state spend some $30 million on affordable housing initiatives, sees a limited role for government.

He recently told his colleagues that he does not believe government should take full responsibility for the current crisis. But he does believe that the state’s “portion” is to focus on low income earners and what can be done to help them.

A Building Boom

Salt Lake City is one of several prominent metropolitan areas around the country now in the midst of a building boom. As mentioned previously, the local area is benefiting from a very strong economy that has companies moving into the area. Those companies are hiring from the local workforce as well as bringing in workers from elsewhere. All of this translates into a need for more housing.

A local real estate called cityhomeCOLLECTIVE says that while there’s plenty of luxury homes for sale in Utah, the affordable housing marketing isn’t nearly as saturated. New luxury apartments and homes are popping up all around the city, but the same cannot be said for affordable housing aimed at low income blue-collar workers.

In essence, Salt Lake City’s current building boom isn’t creating a whole lot of affordable houses and apartments. Builders are putting their time and effort into more expensive houses that increase their margins. They certainly cannot be blamed for doing so. It is simply good business.

State Government Proposals

Utah’s lawmakers realize they have a problem in Salt Lake City. Thus, they are looking at a few proposals by way of Anderegg’s bill. The first proposal calls for spending some $15 million to make loans available to builders willing to build affordable housing. It is believed that some 2,300 apartments for low income earners could be built via the loans.

A second proposal seeks to spend $5 million to preserve those low-income housing units that already exist. If the housing units cannot be saved, they might be torn down and replaced with more expensive apartment units.

Finally, a third proposal seeks to spend $10 million on rental assistance for low-income families. The money would go specifically to families with children who are facing eviction. Money would be spent to bring them current and possibly support future rent payments.

No Easy Answers

Utah is looking to spend some $30 million to combat a problem that has proved to have no easy answers. Are the three proposals worthwhile? Utah lawmakers and voters will have to decide that among themselves. Will the proposals work? If implemented, time will tell. Regardless, Anderegg is probably right in his assertion that government cannot solve the problem all by itself. Nor should it attempt to do so.

People will need housing for as long as there are people. Moreover, there will always be those who cannot afford to pay for it. As such, the debate over how to address affordable housing is going to continue in perpetuity. We should continue to work on the problem, but we should not expect to ever solve it completely.

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