‘You’re not unique’: Gov. Cox rips Utah cities on housing crisis response

The governor said cities have a responsibility to make it faster and easier to increase the housing supply across the state.

(Laura Seitz | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Cox ripped city leaders for not doing more to address Utah's housing crisis.

Gov. Spencer Cox teed off on Utah municipalities Thursday morning, calling for cities across the Beehive State to increase housing supply and chip away at the state’s unrelenting affordability crisis.

“There are some cities out there that think, ‘Oh, yeah, everyone else, we’re unique. We’re different,’” Cox said at his monthly news conference. “No, you’re not. You’re not unique and you’re not different. You have to find more supply and you have to do it quicker.”

The governor’s comments come as homes and rentals are the least accessible they have been in state history for average-income Utahns.

Cox said he is not calling for cities to allow development anywhere whenever they want, but he is calling for city leaders to make rules easier to follow and make decisions faster.

“Every day longer it takes adds to the expense of that house,” he said. “You have to look at the added expense, the requirements that you’re placing on that housing.”

The governor said housing must be allowed where the infrastructure is in place to allow building. State leaders, he said, are looking at additional funding streams to create more of that infrastructure. He also called for allowing density “in the right areas.”

“That’s the only way,” he said. “That’s the only way that our kids and grandkids are going to be able to live here.”

Cox said housing affordability is a reliable predictor of homelessness rates, and that his administration will take “a much more active role” on homelessness response “gaps” as the state barrels toward the next legislative session.

“One of those is unsanctioned camping,” he said. “We have to stop unsanctioned camping in our state and in our capital city. We absolutely have to do that, and so we’ll be working very closely with the mayors, again, with law enforcement to make sure that we can do that.”

Cox also called for overhauling licensing requirements for mental health workers to improve staffing levels. Cox acknowledged there are beds available at the state hospital but the facility lacks enough workers to oversee them.

He ultimately wants to increase the number of beds available at the state mental hospital.

“We’ll be working with the Legislature and legislative leadership on potential policy changes,” Cox said, “but we know that there’s a lot more to do on that and you’ll see us much more engaged and there will be more to come on those issues.”

The governor said additional funding from the state will be an important aspect of the homelessness response.

In a statement Thursday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she agrees with the governor’s comments on ending unsanctioned camping and building more mental health beds. The mayor also called for creating more shelter options for Utahns experiencing homelessness.

“We’ve been saying for years that the shortage of trained mental health professionals and social workers needs to be a bigger priority, and I’m glad to see the governor plans to make additional new investments in homelessness, housing and mental health in the upcoming legislative session,” Mendenhall said. “I’m grateful and enthusiastic for the governor’s continued partnership on these critical issues.”