Salt Lake City mayor issues budget vetoes over City Council’s affordable housing approach

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

FILE – Salt Lake City Mayor Jacki Biskupski speaks at a press conference at the City and County Building in Salt Lake City about a lawsuit filed against the Utah Inland Port Authority on Monday, June 24, 2019. Biskupski and the City Council are at odds after the council shifted and placed contingencies on about $4 million in affordable housing and homelessness money.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued her first budget vetoes on Tuesday, contesting the City Council’s budget approach to about $4 million in affordable housing and homelessness money — but her vetoes might be overridden.

While Biskupski argues the council’s budget would slow down funding for housing and homelessness programs, City Council members say their budget did not slow down the process and would rather create a more streamlined and transparent process.

The City Council is expected to convene for a potential veto override session on Friday, according to a joint City Council statement issued Tuesday. In the statement, City Councilman Charlie Luke and City Councilwoman Amy Fowler, who is also chairwoman of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, called Biskupski’s vetoes "expected."

"This budget does not slow down the process, and we have confidence the RDA staff and other city agencies can move forward on the accelerated timeline we have for affordable housing," the statement said.

Biskupski in a veto statement sent to the City Council said while she and the council are committed to increasing affordable housing in the city, she worried the council’s decision to shift about $2.6 million from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to the Redevelopment Agency (a body controlled by the City Council) and contingencies placed on $1.9 million of funding for affordable housing programs would bog down the "critical" funding.

The mayor vetoed both line items.

"It is important to note, that while we may disagree on how we should move forward over the next year to address the housing crisis, we do not disagree that we must," Biskupski said.

The City Council during its budget deliberations supported Biskupski’s allocations for affordable housing, but decided to move the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which has been used to build or preserve affordable housing units, from the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Division and put it under the control of the RDA so developers wouldn’t need to submit multiple applications for funding.

The aim, after a yearlong trial period, would be to divide the trust fund in two, with the RDA controlling lending for housing development while the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Division would control funding for housing programs.

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To Biskupski, that move could slow down the process. She called the Housing Trust Fund already "transparent and effective," noting that every loan issued is first reviewed by an advisory board, then the City Council.

"Shifting the funding to the RDA through an as of yet (undefined) process will inevitably slow down the delivery of this critical financing,” Biskupski said. “With the region poised to begin implementing a new service model for homelessness, now is not the time to create any delays in bringing additional affordable housing online.”

Additionally, the City Council opted to put about $1.9 million for homelessness programs into a holding account, only to be released after the council could hash out more details with the mayor’s administration on exactly how the money would be spent.

Biskupski argued against the hold on the money, saying there’s an "immediate need" while pointing to the Road Home’s New House 2020 program, which provides case management and housing assistance to people experiencing homelessness who are the highest users of emergency services.

“The council’s decision to place funding in a holding account will jeopardize case management services because funding for this long-term program lapses June 30,” the mayor said.

Luke and Fowler in Tuesday’s statement said they look forward to discussing the issue during Friday’s meeting.

"There are a number of inaccuracies in the mayor’s veto statement, which we will address in detail," Luke and Fowler said.

A supermajority, or five out of seven votes, on the council is required to override the mayor’s vetoes. The Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved the budget earlier this month.

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