Utah competition seeks big solutions to affordable housing

The hope is that Ivory Prize winners will bring their innovations to Utah.

(Courtesy of Salt Lake City Planning Department). New accessory dwelling units — like this backyard unit in Salt Lake City — are seen as a way to ease Utah's housing shortage, but they aren't always easy to build. An Atlanta Ga. company and finalist in Utah's Ivory Prize competition aims to streamline the complicated process to increase housing stock and affordability.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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The affordable housing crisis isn’t unique to Utah, but Utah may be the place to bring solutions together.

A national rent report from Zumper indicates the cost of rent is rising nearly twice as quickly as it was last April. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s March report noted housing insecurity is up more than 11% from 2021. Despite the uptick in rental and home prices, that same report notes inflation-adjustment incomes actually fell more than 2% since last year.

Ivory Innovations, a nonprofit organization housed at the University of Utah, aims to promote innovative solutions to the nation’s housing affordability challenge in three areas: construction and design, finance, and public policy and regulatory reform.

“America’s housing affordability challenges need innovative solutions more than ever. This year’s Ivory Prize finalists provide unique but scalable approaches to this complex problem,” said Kent Colton, Chair of the Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability’s Advisory Board in a statement last week.

Of the ten finalists, three winners wil be selected, one from each category, to split roughly $200,000 to advance their work. And, hopefully, bring those innovations to Utah.

Here are the ten 2022 Ivory Prize finalists:

Construction and design


With piquing interest in mother-in-law units, Eightvillage, a company based in Atlanta, Ga., streamlines the process of establishing an extra living space on a homeowner’s property. “Backyard ATL” helps homeowners build, design, manage and finance detached accessory dwelling units (ADU).


Remember when there was a massive lumber shortage in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Forterra, a Seattle-based company, found a way around this supply chain problem.

The company re-engineered traditional lumber and created cross-laminated timber (CTL) that reduces carbon-intensive construction practices and the cost of labor. Instead of relying on brand new materials to build a home, Forterra’s Forest to Home project prioritizes renewable materials with the intention of constructing affordable and sustainable homes.

Volumetric Building Companies

Part of the reason why housing is so expensive is the lack of available inventory, according to real estate experts. Volumetric Building Companies wants to add more inventory by speeding up the home building process. The Philadelphia company uses modular construction to finish developments fast, for less money and with fewer material resources. They build the structure off-site, in a controlled environment, then transporting it to the final location.


Blackstar Stability

In Utah, nearly 73% of renters were priced out of homeownership in 2020. Blackstar Stability, located in Washington D.C., expands who has access to the housing market by converting predatory loans into loans with equitable standards. The company primarily focuses on low-income, moderate-income and marginalized communities that have been taken advantage of and are at risk of losing their homes.

True Footage

Home appraisals can sometimes seem arbitrary. The value of a home is determined by a single person. They walk through the property, make note of different details and then determine the value of that home based off their assessment. True Footage, based in Seattle, collects data to standardize the appraisal process. The company’s services are currently available in Salt Lake City.

Trust Neighborhoods

Instead of landlords determining the rent, Trust Neighborhoods is giving rent control to the community. The nonprofit in Kanas City, Mo. creates Mixed-Income Neighborhood Trust (MINT) that establishes long-term rentals for current residents under displacement threat due to gentrification.

Policy and Regulatory Reform

Build UP

Despite making up the largest proportion of the adult population, millennials lag behind older generations when it comes to homeownership. Build UP is the first and only workforce development high school in the nation that works within low-income youth communities and provides trade education, paid apprenticeships and fast-tracks homeownership. The Alabama-based organization also renovates rundown and abandoned homes for former students to own and manage.

The City of Cambridge

One city in Massachusetts is trying a new tactic to create affordable housing. Through the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO), Cambridge partners with nonprofit organizations to build and maintain affordable housing. The AHO works around obstacles such as market-rate developers and zoning laws to add affordable housing density in areas with little inventory.

DC Flex

Last year, Washington D.C. implemented a rent subsidy pilot program. Residents that participate in DC Flex can receive $7,500 a year to help cover the cost of housing in one of the most expensive markets in the country. Additionally, instead of the subsidy going straight to a landlord, the tenant is given the funds.

LA Room & Board

Finding secure housing as a college student is a constant struggle. This problem is arguably worse in big cities like Los Angeles, where more than 20,000 students face housing insecurity. LA Room & Board works with community college housing and property owners to offer low-cost or no-cost housing while students complete their education.

This year’s winners of the Ivory Prize will be announced on May 19, 2022.

Editor’s note • The Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation is a donor to The Salt Lake Tribune’s Innovation Lab.