Trying to stem the skyrocketing price of Utah housing is goal of new Salt Lake Chamber coalition

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Housing Gap Coalition formed by the Salt Lake Chamber will encourage local governments to adopt land-use policies promoting mixed-use developments, such as this one in Sugar House. More high-density housing within a mix of residential offerings will be essential to keep the future cost of buying and renting within the means of all Utahns.

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.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A view of Salt Lake City's changing skyline looking eastward on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. A Housing Gap Coalition formed by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is going to encourage local government officials to adopt more flexible zoning policies and to cut regulatory fees to stimulate the development of more types of housing, particularly units affordable for lower income people, in all parts of the Salt Lake Valley.

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.”

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) An apartment building under construction at 400 S. 400 East in Salt Lake City on Tuesday May 1, 2018.

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.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A TRAX train passes by new apartment homes under construction at 400 S. 400 East in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

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?”