It would be an ideal situation if the private housing market were able and willing to meet the needs of Beehive State residents. But the reality is far from ideal.
That's why Utah needs a separate department to oversee housing so that all Utahns have a chance to live in safe homes or apartments that they can afford.
The mortgage crisis and recession have created a population of renters that far exceeds the affordable housing available. That group includes young high school graduates, college students and even college graduates who are unemployed or underemployed; older Utahns who have lost their homes to foreclosure and sometimes have also lost jobs; and seniors who want to downsize.
Some people in these groups would have become home buyers before the recession and mortgage meltdown made it too difficult for them to get home loans. The resulting increase in folks needing rental space has driven up the cost of rent, making the shortage even more dire.
Such problems have led to overcrowded homeless shelters and more people doubling up with parents or other relatives or friends. And fewer new housing units are being built because of the near-collapse of the construction industry.
Fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Utah is $769 a month. The federal government recommends spending no more than 30 percent of household income on housing, so that means a Utah household would have to earn $30,775 a year, or $14.80 an hour, to be able to afford basic rent. But the average renter in Utah earns $11.38 an hour, enough to pay rent of $592 a month, and there simply aren't enough safe, well-maintained apartments in that range.
And now a move by Gov. Gary Herbert to place the state Division of Housing and Community Development under the Department of Workforce Services is threatening to make a bad situation worse. The two agencies have almost nothing in common, and the housing division is likely to be neglected within a huge department that is rightly focused on other matters entirely.
The idea seems to be prompted by simple logistics. The lease on the building where the housing division is located has expired, and the state is trying to save money by combining the physical offices. But the move makes no sense for people who desperately need help to acquire affordable housing options.
National housing organizations say having a staff dedicated solely to housing services is the most important element contributing to the success of a state housing agency. The need in Utah is great and deserves more attention, not less.