SALT LAKE CITY — Utahn Jeanna Nieberger, a mother of two teenagers and a toddler, said five years ago, Utah's skyrocketing housing prices likely wouldn't have mattered to her.
But Friday, standing in front of a line of lawmakers, homelessness advocates and Utah Housing Coalition leaders, Nieberger said, "Now it's very personal."
"I was like everybody else. But when they say you're two paychecks away from homelessness, it's very true," she said.
Nieberger said she had a job, she supported her family, "everything was fine." Until she got sick, her baby got sick, and "we lost our place to live."
"I have an associate degree. I'm not a drug addict. I'm not chronically homeless. I'm not lazy. But I can't find a place for us to go," Nieberger said.
Nieberger joined housing advocates and bill sponsors on Friday for a rallying call to the Utah Legislature to pass legislation aimed at increasing access to affordable housing in Utah.
"It's not that homeless people are creating a housing issue. Housing is creating a homeless issue," Nieberger said. "I don't know what the solution is … but it definitely can't be ignored."
The clock on the 2019 legislative session is ticking. Days away from Thursday's adjournment, officials from the Utah Housing Coalition called a news conference to urge lawmakers to pass legislation including SB34, a bill that would place new requirements on cities to include affordable housing in their master plans — as well as set aside $24 million for affordable housing.
"Access to affordable housing impacts all of the areas of our lives. The work to expand affordable housing cannot be done by housing advocates alone," said June Hiatt, policy director for the Utah Housing Coalition.
"We are confident that the policy and funding priorities that have been crafted for the 2019 legislative session are a productive step forward in addressing this issue," she said. "Most importantly, it is a critical step in ensuring that all Utahns not only have access to housing they can afford, but a stable foundation on which they can building productive lives."
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, sponsor of SB34, joined Friday's rallying cry. He also sits on the state's newly created Commission on Housing Affordability, a body tasked with finding solutions to the Wasatch Front's housing crunch.
"This is not a sprint," Anderegg said. "This is a marathon. So buckle up."
Andregg's bill currently remains in the House Rules Committee pending budget appropriations. The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Val Potter, R-Logan, told the Deseret News he's "hopeful" the bill's full $24 million will be funded, but "we'll take what we can get."
Legislative leaders early next week are expected to hash out the state's budget.10 comments on this story
Another bill, HB386, which would set aside $3 million a year to preserve affordable housing by creating a fund to renovate aging homes to keep them available for moderate-income Utahns. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, is also awaiting funding prioritization. It passed the House last Tuesday and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.
Pamela Atkinson, a homelessness advocate, thanked lawmakers for their work on legislation — and said the Utah Legislature should place affordable housing bills as a "top priority."
"Because it's going to change lives," Atkinson said. "It's going to make a huge difference."