In an interview published last Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, proposed a $2,500 housing stipend for members of Congress to more easily afford housing at home and in Washington. Chaffetz, who is resigning from Congress without completing his current term, has ignored the growing affordable-housing crisis in Utah.
The housing shortage, fueled by a low minimum wage and high rental costs, is forcing families to move into inadequate housing or pack many people under one roof.
“We’re getting hit with factors that, combined, have put us in [a] very precarious housing situation that’s going to take some time to get out of,” Jaren Davis, executive officer of the Salt Lake Home Builders Association, told Deseret News in March.
Utah is short 47,180 homes for low-income families, and 68 percent of the state’s extremely low-income residents have “severe” difficulty affording housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Utah’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, or $15,080 annually; a person on that salary would have to work 76 hours a week to be able to afford a small one-bedroom apartment in Utah.
Speaking to The Hill newspaper on Monday, Chaffetz said, “I flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college, and a second place here in Washington, D.C.” Chaffetz is one of several lawmakers who sleeps in his office when in D.C.
Members of Congress earn $174,000 annually. As of 2014, Chaffetz had an estimated net worth of $569,006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. An analysis by CRP found that the average net worth for a member of Congress in 2013 was more than $1 million. Chaffetz’s office did not respond to TYT Politics’ request for comment.
In Chaffetz’s home state, thousands of residents can’t afford one home, let alone two. “We have a number of people paying over 50 percent of their income to housing,” the Utah Housing Coalition’s executive director Tara Rollins told Salt Lake City’s Fox affiliate this month. “It’s discouraging and I think what’s most discouraging is the thought that people aren’t working hard enough. People are working extremely hard and unfortunately, there are a lot of jobs that are only hiring part-time so they have to have multiple jobs to make ends meet.”
There is a more than 2,000-person waiting list in Utah County for affordable housing, Lynell Smith, director of the Utah County Housing Authority, told Provo’s Daily Herald. “It’s about a two-year wait, which is so unfortunate. The people need help now, not in two years.”
Chaffetz’s legislative record also hurts potential homebuyers other than his constituents. He co-sponsored national legislation to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which regulates companies that provide services like credit cards or mortgages.
In 2011, Chaffetz touted legislation to kill the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a pool of money by mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide housing relief for low-income Americans.
“With Fannie and Freddie under federal government conservatorship and losing billions of dollars a quarter, there is no need to have an additional requirement on them to send a portion of their revenue to special interest groups at the expense of American taxpayers,” reads a 2011 press release from Chaffetz’s office.
The legislation was not successful, however, and the Housing Trust Fund became a source of sorely needed funding. Four years later, Chaffetz voted for legislation that would have diverted money from the fund.
In 2016, $3 million of the Housing Trust Fund’s $174 million pool was allocated for Utah. The same amount was allocated for the District of Columbia.
Last month, President Donald Trump proposed cutting the fund entirely.
Kriston Capps at CityLab wrote: “The Housing Trust Fund is not remotely adequate for solving the growing problem of worst-case housing needs. But it was a flexible funding source, driven by local partners to help families with few to no other options… In many communities, it served as a source of gap funding to create more-deeply affordable housing in inclusionary developments.”