Miller family gives $5M to save older homes and keep them affordable

Gail Miller says she is aiming to protect Utah’s “most vulnerable” from the state’s ongoing housing crisis.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Gail Miller at a March 3, 2022 event at the Utah Capitol supporting the people of Ukraine. The Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation has donated $5 million to a special fund aimed at preserving affordable homes in Utah.

A growing campaign to save existing affordable housing in Utah drew crucial support over the summer from the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation.

The charitable foundation announced Thursday it had chipped in $5 million to a special fund created just before the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset to find, buy and renovate aging rental units instead of seeing their residents forced to move and the homes demolished.

The Utah Housing Preservation Fund, as the nonprofit is called, uses money from donors, investors and government to preserve and maintain existing housing that is more moderately priced but might need some fixing up — as Utah continues to face soaring rents and a dire shortage of affordable homes for sale even with record levels of new residential building.

Judging from homes the fund has saved since its March 2020 inception, residents often are elderly, disabled or more likely to rely on below-average incomes.

Gail Miller, widow of former Jazz owner Larry Miller, said in a news release the $5 million donation came over the summer to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable and underserved families during this affordability crisis.

The business leader, philanthropist and part owner of the Utah Jazz has also stressed the fund’s role in helping to fill the needs for transitional housing for those recovering from homelessness.

“Together,” Miller said, “we can and must build a community where everyone is welcomed, valued and treated with dignity.”

The fund was seeded in March 2020 by the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, Intermountain Healthcare, Zions Bank, and the state’s Workers’ Compensation Fund, followed by donations from the Utah Legislature. It is owned by the Utah Non-Profit Housing Corp., buys and remodels aging housing, then keeps rents subsidized to be accessible for low- to moderate-income Utahns.

In 2½ years, it has preserved well over 600 older homes in Salt Lake City, Park City, Midvale, Sandy, Tooele and West Valley City, ranging from clusters of duplexes to large apartment complexes.

The model is viewed as less expensive and faster than building new housing when labor and materials costs are especially high, while also bypassing zoning disputes that often arise from new construction projects.

The program operates as a revolving fund, too, meaning that income from preserved housing eventually gets plowed back into future investments. Fund manager Doug Harris estimated the Miller family donation would save 100 affordable homes across Utah.

He praised the generosity of the Millers and the Larry H. Miller Co. “Gail Miller and the Miller family care deeply about Utah and its people,” Harris said in the release, “and are making sure Utahns have a place to call home.”