Brian Diggs: The Utah Legislature should fully fund the governor’s housing plan

We are in a crisis of affordable housing and the state has the money to help.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Kids read books at the KidStart Daycare and Child Development Center in Midvale. The Family Support Center operates a multi-faceted program for single homeless mothers, which includes day-care facilities and lodgings to help them get back on their feet.

As the executive director of Family Promise Salt Lake, I see firsthand the impact that Utah’s affordable housing crisis is having on our families. And, as our state coffers overflow with unprecedented abundance, I also see clearly what our state leaders can do about it.

DeeAnna and Clark were evicted from their home in October and were suddenly without shelter. They have two girls and one boy, ages 11, 9 and 4. They didn’t know where to turn for help. Even though they had acquired a Section 8 housing voucher — once considered the golden ticket for families seeking affordable housing — they were unable to find available units due to our state’s housing shortage.

This is where good, bipartisan government policy can — and did! — step in to keep families together and safe. Thanks to the CARES Act COVID relief package passed by Congress with the support of Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee in 2020, Family Promise Salt Lake was able to connect DeeAnna and Clark with a Salt Lake County Emergency Solutions grant, which placed their family in a motel for several weeks while they searched for housing.

Without bipartisan government responses in moments of crisis, such as the CARES Act emergency grant, DeeAnna, Clark and their children would have been on the streets. Without the federal voucher, especially in today’s real estate market, they may have never gotten out of that motel. But, with these federal resources, and working with FPSL case management and staff, they finally found a new home in West Valley City.

When DeeAnna looked at the address, she was in shock. The home they were able to secure was the very house she was raised in as a child.

Said DeeAnna, “I tucked my son in the other night. His new bedroom was my bedroom when I was his age. Being able to stay in the motel allowed me the time to search and apply for housing. Otherwise, we would have spent that time looking for a couch to sleep on or a shelter to stay in. We got the house two days before Christmas! I still can’t believe it!”

We need more bipartisan government responses during hard times, so that more Utah families like DeeAnna’s cannot just find housing but begin turning them into homes. Sadly, happy conclusions like this are getting fewer and farther between. We continue to see housing prices and rents rising far more rapidly than wages, especially for those in essential but low-paying positions. It’s past time for our legislature to tackle this housing crisis with the seriousness it demands.

With $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan COVID relief package, on top of state revenues surpassing expectations by an additional $1.5 billion, our Legislature has the resources to fund initiatives for deeply affordable housing that are proven to work for Utah families and people experiencing homelessness. The Legislature must allocate Gov. Spencer Cox’s full request of $128 million for this purpose. Anything less leaves too many Utah families at risk.

The good news: Utahns are letting elected legislators know exactly how we feel. Alongside our faith and civic leader colleagues at United Today, Stronger Tomorrow - Utah, Family Promise Salt Lake worked to ensure that more than 500 personal stories about the need for affordable housing were sent to the House and Senate leadership. Utahns are calling on them to make this investment. Keeping families like that of DeeAnna and Clark in our hearts, we pray that they will listen.

Brian Diggs

The Rev. Brian Diggs is executive director of Family Promise Salt Lake and serves on the organizing committee of United Today, Stronger Tomorrow - Utah.