SALT LAKE CITY — The bill that would fine Utah cities and counties lacking affordable housing to help pay for homeless shelters in other cities advanced Monday despite opposition.
But changes to the bill may be coming.
HB462, which would require cities and counties with less than the state’s average of affordable and low-income housing to pay sales tax dollars to help fund the operating costs of homeless shelters, passed favorably out of the Senate Revenue and Taxation committee Monday. It now goes to the Senate floor.
But before voting in favor of the bill, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, asked the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, if he would be open to an amendment on the Senate floor to change how the amount a city would pay would be calculated — not by population size, but by sales tax base.
He noted cities like West Jordan — with more residential areas than commercial — would be at a disadvantage to cities like Sandy or Murray, which have larger sales tax bases.
Eliason said he was "open to those suggestions."
"Suffice it to say, this is a must-pass bill," Eliason said.
HB462, though ardently opposed by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, is being backed by House Speaker Greg Hughes, who has called the bill "critical" to the efforts to reform the state’s homeless system — efforts that have already cost the state tens of millions of dollars, along with intense controversy among Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake communities where three new homeless resource centers have been sited.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has also said he’d pull his support of the South Salt Lake center, currently slated for groundbreaking this spring, if a bill to help mitigate costs and impact of the shelters doesn’t pass.
Another bill, SB235, would also require cities not hosting homeless shelters to help pay — specifically for the police and fire needs the facilities bring to their host cities.
Though the state has funded the construction of the new homeless centers, ongoing operating costs of the facilities (estimated to be about $13 million a year) have not yet been set aside, Eliason said.
HB462 would allocate $3.3 million a year of state money and capture about $3.3 million a year in sales tax money from cities and counties to help pay toward costs. The nonprofit in charge of the facilities, Shelter the Homeless, would need to fundraise the rest, Eliason said.
Cities that currently host or are slated to host shelters — Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Midvale, Ogden and St. George — would be exempt, according to the bill.
As currently written, the bill would use population size to determine how much other cities would pay, with a maximum of $200,000 a year.
If they don’t meet statewide averages for affordable and low-income housing, cities with populations over 100,000 like West Valley City, Provo and West Jordan would max out at $200,000. Cities with populations slightly under 100,000, like Sandy and Orem, would come close to the max, while smaller cities like Murray and Draper would be assessed $90,000 to nearly $100,000.
The bill, Eliason said, is meant to incentivize cities to contribute to affordable and low-income housing stock to help prevent Utahns from becoming homeless to begin with. But representatives from the Utah League of Cities and Towns argue punishing cities for housing market failure is not the way to increase affordable housing.
Fillmore ultimately voted in favor of HB462 to push it out of committee, but said he wouldn’t support it on the floor in its current form.