Utah fund will spend $20 million to save homes, keep their rents low

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gail Miller, Board Chair, Intermountain Healthcare, talks about the $100 million private-sector driven effort to preserve affordable housing in Utah, at a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Monday March 2, 2020

A new fund plans to pump $20 million into refurbishing nearly 100 affordable homes across Utah.

Seeded with cash from the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, Intermountain Healthcare, the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corporation and Zions Bank, officials behind the fund said that in the next 30 days they will help finance the purchase and refurbishing of the first 54 affordable homes from Salt Lake County’s housing authority.

The deal by the new Utah Housing Preservation Fund will not only keep existing residents in their homes, officials said, but also allow the county housing authority to reinvest the sales proceeds and create another 100 dwellings for low-income families.

“We know just how challenging it is to build new affordable housing,” said Clark Ivory, CEO for Ivory Homes and head of the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation. “What we have to do is save our existing housing for those who need it most.”

Using that model, Ivory said he hoped additional contributions to the fund from foundations and other sources would boost its resources to $100 million or more, creating the potential to preserve between 500 and as many as 800 homes statewide.

Ivory, whose firm is Utah’s largest home builder, said the Monday announcement of the fund came amid a housing shortage he described as “a crisis right now, particularly for low- and moderate-income families.”

The fund intends to partner with housing authorities, housing nonprofits and other organizations. Houses and apartments the fund pays to preserve would then be rent subsidized and managed by the Salt Lake City-based Utah Nonprofit Housing Corporation, which already has hundreds of housing units under its supervision, Ivory said.

Saving existing affordable housing that might otherwise be demolished or renovated and rented at higher rates has advantages over new home construction, Ivory and others said — particularly as the state grapples with a shortage of an estimated 55,000 dwellings.

It is cheaper and faster than building new homes, and salvaging existing homes also sidesteps potentially thorny planning and zoning disputes that might arise at the city level from new construction projects.

More importantly, said Gail Miller, business leader, philanthropist and owner of the Utah Jazz, the new Utah Housing Preservation Fund would help fill a dire need for transitional housing to serve families recovering from homelessness.

“We need to have housing for them to go into it, to give them dignity, to change their lifestyle, to help them move into society in a meaningful way and become productive citizens,” said Miller, who also heads the board for Intermountain Healthcare.

Those living in homes refurbished by the fund will have access to health services through Intermountain.

Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare’s chief community health officer, said the firm’s case managers have long recognized the importance of housing in overall patient health, but lacked the resources or expertise to directly address the issue.

“This will be a coming together of housing and health care that will help us learn how we can support one another even more in the years ahead,” Moore said.

The fund also has potential to tie into a new system of matching grants proposed on Capitol Hill.

Sponsoring Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, has included $5 million in matching cash for housing preservation in SB39, which would spend $35.3 million on rental assistance, new affordable housing loans and other programs. That bill now heads to the full House.