Shift of housing division passes first hurdle

Housing • Low-income and affordable housing advocates oppose the move.
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A bill that would mash the state's housing division within the Department of Workforce Services passed through committee 5-1 Monday despite a steady stream of testimony from opponents.

Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said HB139 came after Gov. Gary Herbert requested a year of study about the restructuring of the Department of Community and Culture. Moving the Division of Housing and Community Development to the Department of Workforce Services was the most controversial component of the measure.

Harper said it was largely a cost-saving measure.

"We're looking for nickels in the couch cushions this year," Harper said.

He said the measure would save the state $1.3 million — with about a third of those savings realized through eliminating a separate lease for the housing division and instead putting it under the same roof as Workforce Services.

Currently, the housing division's lease expires at the end of the month. The division will then move into the location where Workforce Services is housed. But Department of Community and Culture spokesman Geoffrey Fattah said if the bill didn't pass or wasn't signed by Herbert, other arrangements would have to be made.

Tim Funk, project director for Crossroads Urban Center, said the move would be disruptive to those who rely on services provided by the housing division — including providing tools for affordable housing and helping communities with bonding ability.

"The Department of Workforce Services is not the same as the Division of Housing," Funk said. "I think you would have a very bad marriage."

Several in the House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee said the fact that there was a safety net — an advisory board made up of various stakeholders that would review after a year how it was working — was a big factor in approving the bill.

"If it doesn't work," said Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, "we will be back here in committee … in the future."