After years of hefty rental increases, rates are stabilizing and in some areas falling.
But affordable-housing advocates say rents are still too high for many low- to moderate-income families.
The general rule is that housing costs -- either in the form of rent or a mortgage -- shouldn't account for more than 30 percent of a family's income, leaving enough money for food and other necessities. "But in Utah, there are many families paying more than 50 percent," said Tara Rollins of the Utah Housing Coalition.
The coalition on Wednesday released "Out of Reach," a report that compares incomes in the state with rental rates.
It shows that a person or family would have to earn $2,560 monthly, or about $30,700 annually, to afford a two-bedroom apartment that runs $768 per month -- without paying out more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Rollins said many don't make that much money but still pay that level of rent.
Housing advocates say some economic stimulus money that has made its way to Utah has helped nonprofits address the problem, but more money to assist or subsidize low-income families would be helpful. Additional effective incentives to get developers to build more affordable units would also help, they say.
Those who have the worst time making ends meet include low-income single parents with day care costs and low-income families, even those with dual incomes. Many end up paying 50 percent, 60 percent, even 70 percent of their income just on rent. "This puts them at risk for financial disaster in the event they have a car problem or any unexpected expense," she said.
Avery Christiaens knows this dilemma well. As a single parent of a young child, she couldn't find any rental she could afford, so she ended up living with her mother. She's now married, but even with both her and her husband working -- she in retail, he in the pest control business -- affordable housing continues to be an issue.
The couple is renting a home in West Jordan they share with her son, 4. "But we really have to watch every single dollar," she said.
The situation for renters was actually worse a few years ago. For much of 2007 and 2008, tighter lending standards made it difficult to buy a home, which fueled demand for rentals and pushed rents ever higher.
But this year, low mortgage rates, home-price declines and several home-buying incentives, including an $8,000 tax credit designed for first-time buyers, have helped more renters to purchase homes. These purchases have helped create vacancies in rental housing and reduced demand for available units. Lower job and population growth in the state also have cut demand.
At the same time, there's a greater supply of rental units -- primarily in the form of single-family homes -- as people who can't sell their properties for a high enough price instead take them off the market and rent them out. Further adding to supply is the high level of apartment construction of the past several years. Vacancies are pushing 9 percent, up from a low of 4.5 percent in 2007.
With lower demand and greater supply, landlords have little power to raise rents, and are in some cases lowering rents and offering concessions to lure renters.
Michelle Flynn with the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City said stimulus money has helped ease the problem of finding an affordable rental. The shelter provides rental and deposit assistance on a temporary basis to families in need.
Since Oct. 1, the shelter has helped 270 families move out of the shelter and into rentals they can afford.
But Flynn said there are many more families that need help far beyond what the shelter can provide. "For many, the cost of rental housing remains beyond what's affordable."
Call 211, provide your ZIP code and you'll be referred to agencies that can help.