Guest post by Barbara Stallone, Director of Policy and Public Relations, Utah Housing Coalition
The Republican heavy legislature of Utah is not usually an arena that would be considered friendly to a conversation about the need for a living wage. However, during the recently ended 2014 legislative session, HB 73 Living Wage Amendments were sponsored by Representative Lynn Hemingway. The bill would have increased minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.25 in Utah and mandated additional increases every two years tied to the Consumer Price Index. Representative Hemingway defined a living wage as one that “pulls people out of poverty.” While the last several bills regarding minimum wage increases have failed, this bill had a robust debate and has been returned to the Health and Human Services committee for additional study during interim.
The Utah Housing Coalition (UHC) was able to use Out of Reach data in several ways to further this conversation. First, when the sponsor introduced the bill, UHC approached him and asked if he was interested in numbers that would support the need for an increased wage. He was thrilled to have the numbers readily available to support his contention that Utah needs to adjust wages to make housing more attainable for a greater number of people. We handed him the Utah specific page of the Out of Reach report. He used the data from that page to craft his initial testimony on the bill.
Secondly, to add emphasis to his initial testimony, UHC prepared individualized reports for each committee member with regard to the numbers specific to their respective district. This data helped to drive home the point that there are those living on the edge of housing stability in their own districts. Tara Rollins, Executive Director of Utah Housing Coalition, explained, “The importance of pay in relation to the ability to maintain housing cannot be understated. We need wages that will allow people to pay for their housing and we need rents at a level that people can pay.”
With this session safely behind us, the Utah Housing Coalition will continue to share the Out of Reach data with legislators, and will be meeting with local and county elected officials to reinforce the data throughout the summer.
State-specific Out of Reach 2014 data can be found online at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014.