Utah Jazz executive Steve Starks doesn’t want his daughters to grow up and find they can’t afford a decent place to live around here because housing prices are steadily escalating faster than incomes.
So Starks is serving as chairman of a Salt Lake Chamber initiative, dubbed the Housing Gap Coalition, whose intent is to work with local governments to lower regulatory fees and to revise zoning policies to encourage more high-density housing amid single-family homes, small apartments and retail spaces.
“We want to keep the ‘American Dream’ alive for future generations,” said Starks, president of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, which includes the Jazz. “This has nothing to do with my day job, but it affects all of us. … Utah has had a competitive advantage because of affordability and quality of life. We want to make sure that continues.”
Chamber President Derek Miller launched the initiative Tuesday, right after the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released the final version of a detailed research report illustrating that Utah is heading toward an affordability crisis if something isn’t done now to bridge the gap between sprinting housing prices and plodding wage hikes.
“It’s not like we have a crisis now, but certainly this trajectory is something that certainly raises a concern,” said James Wood, lead author on the 45-page report, noting that housing prices in Utah over the past 26 years, a full generation, have gone up 3.3 percent annually, the country’s fourth highest rate. If they maintain that pace, in 26 years the median price of a home in Salt Lake County would rise from $325,000 to $730,000.
Income growth, by comparison, is rising just 2.3 to 2.7 percent per year, leaving many people — but particularly those below the median income — without the resources to keep pace.
“Utah has a heritage of getting in front of problems,” said Miller, who came to the chamber from World Trade Center Utah. “We’ve seen the business community rally before and address large challenges, like transportation and education. I’m excited to address housing affordability. We want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the quality of living we’ve enjoyed and to have the option of staying here and being part of the community.”
Some factors behind the gap are hard to control, he acknowledged.
Utah’s population is surging internally and from in-migration. The economy is booming. Undeveloped land in the Salt Lake Valley is scarce and getting more expensive all the time. Rising interest rates will make it more costly to buy a house, and they’ll also put additional pressure on rental markets.
“But there are some things we can change,” Miller said.
In a series of meetings, he said, coalition members will encourage cities, towns and counties to adapt their zoning codes to allow “for a variety of housing types and prices, meeting the needs of Utahns at all stages of life.”
That means even more high-density housing complexes than are already popping up all over the Salt Lake Valley.
Local governments also will be asked to reduce impact and permit fees that either discourage housing construction or result in higher costs being passed on to consumers, Miller said.
“Our communities have to work together. We have to engage all of the Wasatch Front counties to think long term,” Starks added. “What levers can we pull now that will impact us [positively] 30 to 40 years down the road?”