Finance experts say rents above 30 percent of residents' incomes force difficult day-to-day sacrifices, with burdened renters having to forgo other basics such as health care or saving for emergencies, retirement or a mortgage down payment.
One Utah housing advocate described these renters as living on the edge of homelessness or financial disaster.
"Once there's a hiccup in their lives, they can't catch up," said Tara Rollins, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Housing Coalition, which lobbies for affordable-housing construction statewide.
"They give up medications and get sick," Rollins said. "Or they can't get to work because their car got towed or they can't afford the gas."
Salt Lake City is hardly alone in this regard.
The ranks of cost-burdened renters nationwide have grown by nearly 1.7 million people since the onset of the Great Recession, according to the ApartmentList study.
Regionally, the study pegged the share of cost-burdened renters at 39.6 percent to 51 percent of all renters for Wasatch Front counties, with Salt Lake County at 46.5 percent.
Ogden's cost-burdened ratio was 56.5 percent and West Valley City's 51.1 percent. Provo and Orem had ratios of 54.1 percent and 45.5 percent, respectively.
The new research comes out as Salt Lake City emerges as part of a regional boom in apartment construction, with thousands of new units planned or already being built. Most of the new dwellings along the Wasatch Front, however, continue to be priced at higher market rates.
A 2013 study had estimated the city needed an additional 8,240 moderately priced homes to meet the needs of low- and medium-income workers and their families, the disabled and those on fixed incomes.
In late January, Mayor Ralph Becker unveiled an initiative meant to bring at least 5,000 additional affordable apartments and single-family homes into the city's housing stock during the next five years, a program dubbed "5000 Doors." Nearly a year in the works before it was announced, the effort has involved private developers, lending institutions, government agencies, community groups and homeless advocates, said Melissa Jensen, the city's deputy director of Housing and Neighborhood Development.
The city also has been a conduit for nearly $4.3 million in state tax incentives, federal block grants, loans and other funding sources to make it feasible for developers to build affordable multi- and single- family dwellings, whether stand-alone or as part of larger market-rate housing projects.
"It's been the heart of what we do," said Jensen, who called 5000 Doors "a collaborative effort that requires a diverse set of partners to truly be successful."
Becker, whose professional background includes urban planning, repeatedly has mentioned the importance of ensuring that residents from a variety of income levels are able to live affordably in the city.