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The City Journals

Utah’s housing unaffordability crisis

Aug 03, 2018 09:34AM ● By Jana Klopsch

By Lana Medina | [email protected]

Despite an uptick in employment, Utah is becoming more unaffordable for low-income families.

According to a recent report from the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, housing prices have been steadily rising since the 1990s, but Utah wages are not matching that growth, and low-income families are starting to suffer as a result.

“Eighty six percent of people pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing,” said Tara Rollins, executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition. “The issue has been happening for some time. Wages haven’t been keeping up with rent.”

Rollins says it’s especially affecting Utah because population growth is outpacing the number of homes and apartments available, and construction isn’t meeting demand.

Jennifer Gilchrist, a realtor in Salt Lake County, said she often sees homes in the $200,000 to $250,000 price range get offers within a matter of hours.

“It’s really crazy right now. There are a lot of people who want to buy houses and not that many people who are selling,” she said.

Since last year alone, the average single family home has gone up approximately 13 percent in price. For example, a $300,000 home for sale last year, would now be selling for about $340,000, according to the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

While other states are suffering from an increase in housing prices, Utah is ranked as the 4th highest in the nation for that growth, and experts believe it’s only going to get worse.

For Jerusha Stucki and her husband, who were both born and raised in Utah, the rise in housing prices has made it difficult for them to search for a home for their growing family.

They’ve tried looking at houses, but the rising cost makes it a daunting task.

“Our price range is for houses that are old, dirty and cheap, and we don’t want to be house poor,” Stucki explained.

But waiting for a few years down the road could be even worse. Stucki says just three years ago, she and her husband nearly bought a townhouse but ultimately had to back out. Now, that townhouse is worth $35,000 more than the asking price from just a few years ago.

“There’s a good chance, we may not see houses at the prices we saw even three years ago,” Stucki says.

The housing unaffordability crisis isn’t just affecting families wanting to buy homes, but rentals are rising at an alarming rate.

Rollins says many families are combining with other households in one home to manage rental costs, and some are putting up with substandard housing because there isn’t anything better available in their price range.

“Last year the housing wage was $17.02 and it just went up to $17.77, that’s a 75 cent increase per hour,” Rollins said. 

But Rollins says for the average person to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake County, their wage needs to match approximately $19.90 an hour. 

“That’s up 86 cents from last year,” Rollins explained.

The University of Utah Gardner Policy Institute report suggested some municipal measures to help reduce housing unaffordability, including waive or reduce fees for affording housing, change building codes to encourage more affordable housing, and adopt zoning ordinances that provide a wide range of housing types and prices.

But in the meantime, families like the Stuckis continue to follow the housing market and hope future changes will make housing more affordable in Utah.