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Poor Utahns face big shortage of affordable housing

First Published      Last Updated Jan 11 2017 11:12 pm


Report » Data show more than 38,000 residents are priced out of the market by skyrocketing rents.

Utah's poor face a big shortage of affordable rental housing.

The number of Utah's extremely low-income families exceeds the rental units they can afford by more than 38,000 — equivalent to the population of Kearns, according to the state's first Affordable Housing Assessment and Plan released this week.

"It is imperative that Utah take steps to intervene," said the report by the Department of Workforce Services.

It calls for the state to help boost such housing by providing additional tax credits as an incentive, and also by creating better understanding among developers about how to tap funding and resources that already exist.




Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who created the Affordable Housing Task Force last year to assess such problems and seek solutions, said the report presented to the panel this week shows "the serious need for more affordable housing in Utah."

The report estimates that Utah has 264,000 renters. Two-thirds of them are considered low-income, earning less than 80 percent of the median income.

And 21 percent of all renters — one of every five — are considered extremely low-income, earning 30 percent or less of the median income. They also are the fastest-growing segment of renters.

"Utah," the report said, "has a shortage of 38,447 affordable rental units available to extremely low-income renters," according to estimates.

It notes that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development anticipates that the average full-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Utah will be $876 a month this year.

It considers rent to be affordable if it costs 30 percent or less of a family's income. With that, renters of a typical apartment in Utah would need to earn at least $35,035 a year, or $16.84 an hour, for a typical apartment to be considered affordable.

"Hourly wage shortfalls will present a real challenge for many of Utah's renter households in 2017," the report said. "We estimated that the average renter in Utah would need an additional $4.10 per hour, working full time, to afford a two-bedroom apartment" at full-market rate.

The average renter earns less than needed to afford typical apartments in 25 of Utah's 29 counties.

"On the extreme end, the average renters in Rich and Piute counties would need to earn an additional $9.76 and $8.87 per hour" to afford typical apartments there, according to the report.

"Nowhere in Utah can a full-time worker earn minimum wage and afford a two-bedroom apartment at full-market rate," but the problem is acute along the Wasatch Front, where the population is concentrated.

"With the exception of a couple of rural counties, Utah's cost-burdened renters are concentrated in Salt Lake County and other counties within the Wasatch Front region."

Salt Lake County had nearly 318,000 renters in 2014, and 30 percent of them were considered extremely low-income, the report said. Such low-income households have grown in the state's most populous county at a rate of 4.4 percent since 2009.

Governments have used voucher programs to help renters afford housing, the report said, but "they tend to assume that the local market has a sufficient supply of housing that is both affordable and available for lower income households."

That is not always the case.

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