Utah business leaders create a new $200,000 Ivory Prize for the best ideas on affordable housing

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Home construction in South Jordan. Officials on Tuesday announced the Ivory Prize in Housing Affordability, a $200,000 award to be shared yearly among nominees with the best ideas in design, financing and policy to promote affordable housing.

Utah added a big cash award Tuesday to its list of tools for addressing an ongoing shortage of affordable housing.

Officials launched what will be called the Ivory Prize in Housing Affordability, a $200,000 award to be shared among those with the best ideas in housing design, financing and policy.

The yearly prizes are being funded by Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes, Utah’s largest home builder, and his wife, Christine, though a family foundation, with support from the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

The new awards, Ivory said Tuesday, will recognize “the most ambitious, adoptable and innovative solutions” to address the housing problem — as selected by a group of Utah and national experts.

The announcement comes amid what officials have labeled a crisis, with a shortfall of thousands of affordable homes as construction costs, labor shortages and a lack of available land continue to drive up housing prices. Analysts say too many state residents are being forced to pay well above a third of their incomes on housing costs and rents, leaving them financially squeezed.

Ivory said housing affordability is “among the most pressing challenges facing our nation.”

The CEO spoke of recently meeting a U. student who had been living out of his car for seven months while attending classes.

“This is a real-world problem that we can’t ignore,” said Ivory, who recounted the dramatic rise in Utah housing prices in recent decades amid relatively stagnant wage growth. “We’re having a crisis of affordability and we’re in this industry and we need to do something about it.”

Individuals, public and private organizations and partnerships across the country are eligible for the prize, designed to reward innovators and to give them significant support in promoting their ideas to potential financial backers, Ivory said.

In announcing the new prize — to be split among winners based on their potential impact — officials also launched a new Housing Affordability Innovations Lab at the U. Business School. Students will study ideas generated by award nominees while learning about housing markets.

U. President Ruth Watkins welcomed the award and the collaboration behind it, saying both were vital to address “one of our state’s most urgent issues.”

Watkins said that for the first time, some newly recruited U. faculty members “are raising serious concerns over whether their salary will allow them to live in Salt Lake City.”

“This is not a good situation for the University of Utah,” she said. “This is of concern across all aspects of our institution.”

In taking over from retired U. President David Pershing, Watkins said she had traveled across Utah over the summer. “From Logan to Moab,” she said, “I heard lots of concerns expressed about housing availability and housing affordability.”

Watkins said the award held “great promise” in addressing the concern.

One leading housing expert praised the prize as a way to find entrepreneurs with ideas that could benefit millions of prospective homeowners.

“I’m a realist in knowing that you have to keep chipping away if you’re going to make change,” said Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. “But I also know we need big ideas to make that change as transformative as possible.”

Nominations for the Ivory Prize are due by Dec. 15, with finalists to be announced in early February at the yearly Sorenson Impact’s Winter Innovation Summit. Winners will be chosen in March.

Nominees will be judged by an advisory panel of experts, including officials from the Terner Center; the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University; and the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

In terms of home construction and design, officials said award judges would focus on ideas for new construction and for rehabilitating existing structures.

On housing policy ideas, the selection panel will look for “innovative and adoptable approaches” to overcome regulatory and political obstacles to more affordable housing.

And on financing, judges will look for ideas that make housing more affordable for average households, particularly those addressing barriers to qualifying for mortgages and affording down payments.