The way the Utah Association of REALTORS® sees it, the state’s growing housing problem will only be solved by a lot of little solutions – like the dozen or so codified as options in Utah’s 2019 REALTOR®-supported Affordable Housing Modifications legislation. Yet, one of the very simplest of these – making it easier for homeowners to rent out internal Accessory Dwelling Units – was not gaining much headway, so with an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the Utah Association of REALTORS® helped push through a bill that cuts the red tape.
Government Affairs Director Cate Klundt explains that of all the measures promoted by the Affordable Housing Modifications Act, from establishing community land trusts to increasing residential zoning withing commercial districts, permitting Accessory Dwelling Units is the low-hanging fruit: “They’re within an existing home, so the infrastructure already exists. Because they don’t involve developing a new piece of land, there’s very little cost to the city.” She notes that ADUs can help renters and landlords in a variety of ways, and are often mutually beneficial. “By renting out a basement apartment, young families can avoid being ‘house poor;’ by renting to family members saving for a down payment, retirees can give the next generation a leg-up to homeownership; in-house rental units can enable elderly homeowners to age in place with a caregiver under the same roof,” she explains. Typically renting at about 60% of the market rate, ADUs can be economical housing options for students and others on a tight budget.
House Bill 82 was sponsored by a state legislator who had heard from a frustrated constituent how difficult it was to get an Accessory Dwelling Unit permitted. Finding that only about twenty were being approved per year in his district, he resolved to craft legislation to simplify and expedite the process and turned to the REALTORS® for input and support. As drafted, HB 82 would require municipalities throughout the state to accept internal ADUs as a permitted land use, regardless of local zoning laws and classifications. While the bill eliminated specious requirements such as the location of the door in relation to the windows, or total lot-size or street frontage, it retains all the safety measures already in place through the inspections mandated by any city or county construction permit. The legislation applies only to units within or attached to the house in question, and the primary owner must live in the property.
With an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the state association launched a three-week campaign touting ADUs as “A Free-Market Solution to Utah’s Housing Shortage.” The effort’s kick-off coincided with Utah’s REALTOR® Day, attended virtually by state legislators, their staffs, and 1,200 members – that’s 700 more than are normally able to attend in person, notes Klundt. “It was a great opportunity to give everyone a good summary of what we were trying to pass, and why. Afterwards, we mailed packets of flyers and talking points to our members in attendance, and, since circumstances prevented our usual catered luncheon, we provided boxed lunches to the legislators and staffers, packed in clever containers that looked like houses. They were printed with our talking points, which we figured would be read like the back of a cereal box,” she notes with a smile. The campaign used digital ads and email blasts to steer Utahans to a dedicated website where they could learn more and respond to a Call For Action; it attracted a record level of member engagement, with 1,400 members from every district in the state sending lawmakers over 3,000 emails urging passage of the bill. The whole effort benefited by close cooperation with the bill’s sponsor, who kept the REALTORS® in the loop with regards to the legislative agenda and calendar, ensuring that the barrages of emails were timely. The bill passed with a large margin.
“This legislation is a relatively small change that we’re hoping will net a big impact,” says Klundt. As explained on the compelling video on housingsolutionsforutah.com, if it can help double the number of ADUs in Utah, it would relieve a great deal of pressure on the rental market – and go a long way towards alleviating Utah’s housing crisis.
To learn more about how the Utah Association of REALTORS® is helping to address the state’s housing shortage by supporting Accessory Dwelling Units, contact Government Affairs Director Cate Klundt, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801.676.5220.