Utah Contest Seeks Big Affordable Housing Solutions


The hope is that Ivory Prize winners will bring their innovations to Utah.

(Courtesy of the Salt Lake City Planning Department). New accessory housing units — like this backyard unit in Salt Lake City — are seen as a way to ease Utah’s housing shortage, but they aren’t always easy to build. An Atlanta, Georgia company and finalist in the Utah Ivory Prize competition aims to streamline the convoluted process to increase housing stock and affordability.

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identifying solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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The affordable housing crisis is not unique to Utah, but Utah may be the place to find solutions.

A zumper’s national rent report indicates that the cost of rent is increasing almost twice as fast as last April. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development March report noted that housing insecurity has increased by more than 11% compared to 2021. Despite the rise in rent and house prices, this same report notes that inflation-adjustment incomes have actually fallen by more than 2% since last year.

Ivory Innovationsa non-profit organization housed at the University of Utah, aims to promote innovative solutions to the nation’s housing affordability challenge in three areas: construction and design, finance, public policy and regulatory reform.

“The challenges of housing affordability in the United States require innovative solutions more than ever. This year’s Ivory Prize finalists offer unique yet evolving approaches to this complex problem,” Kent Colton, chair of the Ivory Prize Housing Affordability Advisory Council, said in a statement last week.

From the ten finalists, three winners will be selected, one in each category, to share approximately $200,000 to further their work. And hopefully bring those innovations to Utah.

Here are the ten finalists for the Prix Ivoire 2022:

Construction and design


With keen interest in mother-in-law units, eightvillagean Atlanta, Georgia-based company is streamlining the process of establishing additional living space on a homeowner’s property. “Backyard ATL” helps owners build, design, manage and finance detached secondary suites (UDAs).


Remember when there was a massive wood shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Forterraa Seattle-based company has found a way around this supply chain problem.

The company has re-engineered traditional timber and created cross-laminated timber (CTL) that reduces carbon-intensive construction practices and labor cost. Instead of relying on new materials to build a home, Forterra Home Forest Project favors renewable materials in order to build affordable and sustainable homes.

Volumetric construction companies

Part of the reason housing is so expensive is the lack of available inventory, according to real estate experts. Volumetric construction companies wants to add more inventory by speeding up the house building process. The Philadelphia company uses modular construction to complete developments quickly, for less money and with fewer hardware resources. They build the structure offsite, in a controlled environment, then transport it to the final location.


Blackstar Stability

In Utah, nearly 73% of renters had become homeowners by 2020. Blackstar Stability, located in Washington DC, expands access to the housing market by converting predatory lending to fair-standard lending. The company primarily focuses on low-income, moderate-income, and marginalized communities that have been exploited and are at risk of losing their homes.

True pictures

Home valuations can sometimes seem arbitrary. The value of a home is determined by one person. They go through the property, note different details, and then determine the value of this house based on their assessment. True pictures, based in Seattle, collects data to standardize the assessment process. The company’s services are currently available in Salt Lake City.

Trust Neighborhoods

Instead of landlords determining the rent, Trust Neighborhoods gives rent control to the community. The Kanas City, Missouri nonprofit is creating a Mixed-Income Neighborhood Trust (MINT) that establishes long-term rentals for current residents at risk of displacement due to gentrification.

Policy and regulatory reform


Although they constitute the largest proportion of the adult population, millennials lag behind previous generations when it comes to home ownership. Accumulate is the nation’s first and only workforce development high school that works within low-income youth communities and provides business training, paid apprenticeships, and fast-track home ownership. The Alabama-based organization also renovates dilapidated and abandoned homes for former students to own and manage.

Cambridge City

A Massachusetts town is trying a new tactic to create affordable housing. By the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO), Cambridge partners with non-profit organizations to build and maintain affordable housing. The AHO bypasses barriers such as market-rate developers and zoning laws to add affordable housing density in low-inventory areas.

Flex CC

Last year, Washington DC implemented a pilot rent subsidy program. Residents who participate in Flex CC can receive $7,500 per year to help cover the cost of housing in one of the most expensive markets in the country. Also, instead of the grant going directly to the landlord, the tenant receives the funds.

THE room and board

Finding safe accommodation as a student is a constant struggle. This problem is arguably worse in large cities like Los Angeles, where over 20,000 students in the face of housing insecurity. THE room and board works with community college housing and property owners to provide low-cost or no-cost housing while students complete their studies.

This year’s Ivory Prize winners will be announced on May 19, 2022.

Editor’s Note • The Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation is a donor to the Salt Lake Tribune Innovation Lab.


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