Many Utahns are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, and state lawmakers are turning their attention to the need for more affordable housing.

Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol, the Legislature's Political Subdivisions Interim Committee will consider various options for the development of affordable housing in Utah.

Gordon Walker, director for the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development, said home prices and rental rates have risen so much in recent years that affordability has become a greater concern for the state.

"It's the recognition of the demand for affordable housing and the fact that we need more of it," he said Monday.

The legislative committee members plan to to lay a foundation for any future action by examining the extent and nature of the affordable-housing problem in Utah. Michael Glenn, program director for the state division of Housing and Community Development, is one of the scheduled speakers and plans to present statistics on the size of the current population that qualifies for affordable housing.

"We're talking about everyone, from the homeless to young families and teachers at the higher end," he said. "We'll be breaking that population out in terms of how many rental units we think we're going to need for that population as it grows over the next five years."

He also plans to review the federal, state and local programs that already exist to address the affordable-housing issue.

Glenn said there is an increasing need for affordably priced housing all over the state. That need includes affordable homes, as well as rental opportunities.

Several legislators have begun seeking possible solutions. Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, plans to present a resolution calling for a study of the cost of municipal land-use and construction regulations for residential construction and affordable housing. Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, will propose a study on preserving manufactured and mobile-home parks.

Meanwhile, Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, is sponsoring a study to review ways for the state to encourage zoning that fosters the development of a wide range of housing choices. He said he was approached by an affordable-housing advocacy group that asked him to sponsor an interim study that would address the growing concern of rising housing costs and shrinking affordability for many Utahns. Although he favors allowing the free market to resolve the problem, he said he believes the critical nature of affordability demands additional attention.

"I'm not a big believer in subsidies, but a lot of times there are zoning issues that keep affordable housing out of some areas," Herrod said.

Developing affordable housing typically requires higher-density projects, but some communities enact laws that prohibit higher-density zoning, thereby precluding development of apartment buildings, condominiums or townhomes, he said.

Herrod has seen the problem firsthand in his Provo district, which he said is one of the cities in the state that provides a significant amount of affordable housing. "Provo is doing its fair share for affordable housing," he said. "I want to make sure other cities do their fair share. We need more affordable-housing choices."


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