Unaffordable housing has become a crisis in Utah


by Lana Medina

Davis Clipper

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 Utah, says 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 in Davis County has gone up approximately 11 percent in price, and in Salt Lake County, prices have increased 14 percent. 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.

Kari Allen DeJuncker and her growing family started house hunting in fall 2016, and at that time, trying to find a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home for under $250,000 seemed extremely difficult.

“We picked a starter home but then ran into financing problems,” DeJuncker explained. The house they were originally interested in costs more now. DeJuncker said they finally decided to build their first home because there weren’t enough homes on the market to buy.

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 (the estimated wage to afford a median priced home) was $17.02 and it just went up to $17.77. That’s a 75 cent increase per hour,” Rollins said.

But the cost of housing has increased more than wages, and low-income families are feeling the pain.

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, low-income families continue to follow the housing market and hope future changes will make housing more affordable in Utah.

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