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Utah governor visits Lehi to highlight state’s housing efforts

By Curtis Booker - Daily Herald | Mar 28, 2024

Curtis Booker, Daily Herald

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox holds a ceremonial bill signing in Lehi on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has been vocal about making housing more affordable for current Utahns and for generations to come.

On Thursday, he celebrated what his administration and state lawmakers crafted together at a ceremonial bill signing in Lehi.

Inside of a packed clubhouse on an undeveloped lot on the city’s west side, Cox touted what he called the “most aggressive housing package” in the country.

The state looks to build 35,000 new starter homes by 2028.

In their budget recommendations for fiscal year 2025, Cox and Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson proposed the state spend $150 million on the Utah First Homes program to provide infrastructure funding and help for homebuyers.

However, legislators decided to go with a different approach that would cost that state around $350,000. It would give growing cities like Lehi and surrounding areas along with developers the tools needed to pay for infrastructure, ultimately creating more affordable single-family housing units.

“We figured out we weren’t gonna have the kind of budget we were hoping for and somehow we figured out how to get more money than even we proposed into the space in a way that will make a difference” Cox said.

The governor already signed the eight bills that address affordable housing, growth and transit before last Thursday’s deadline, but Cox is visiting cities across the state to highlight traction made during the 45-day legislative session.

He was joined by each of the bills’ sponsors, as well as stakeholders and builders.

Several Utah County city leaders also were in attendance, including Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson and Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.

Two of the bills the governor appeared to be the most excited about include House bills 13 and 572.

H.B. 572 allows the state treasurer to allot $300 million into the Utah Homes Investment plan to give loans to builders.

Steve Waldrip, newly appointed as the governor’s senior advisor for housing strategy and innovation, said the state needs to build at least 28,000 homes a year to keep up with population growth, a number that was more than exceeded in 2021.

After the major bank collapse in early 2023, builders weren’t able to get funds needed due to tightened restrictions by the federal government.

“Our production went from 37,000 in 2021 to 19,020 in 2023. So we’ve lost ground last year, and we need to reverse that (by) creating liquidity for our lenders to give loans to builders that are good builders — they want to do good projects. That’s a critical piece of creating opportunity for these builders to produce the homes that we need in Utah,” Waldrip said.

H.B. 13 would allow for infrastructure investments in undeveloped areas.

“We have close to 200,000 lots available to build on right now, but they don’t have roads. They don’t have sewer, they don’t have the things they need,” Cox told a group of reporters. “So those are the two big (bills) getting infrastructure to those lots, getting low-interest loans to build more affordable homes.”

In fast-growing Utah County, modular, factory-built homes could be one option to help combat the housing crisis and affordability.

Senate Bill 168 supports this by adopting a statewide building code for modular building units.

ZenniHome is a Utah-based manufacturer of high-tech, eco-friendly homes. Before S.B. 168 was passed, the company would have to work with each Utah municipality individually to install modular homes in communities across the state. The signing now gives them access to work with the state directly, in turn getting homes built faster.

The option would be ideal for a single-family or multifamily unit.

“Every unit that comes out of our factory could be stacked five stories, or it can just be a standalone home,” ZenniHome founder Bob Worsley told the Daily Herald. “We had 300 places in Utah before this bill that we had to call for inspections — counties, cities, etc. Now there’s just one place: the state. The state comes in … and it’s all good to go.”

Thursday’s ceremonial bill signing was held in Lehi’s Cold Spring Ranch development, an area near border of Saratoga Springs featuring rows of new finished and unfinished homes similar to what the governor envisions for the future of housing in Utah.


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