The ranks of Utahns worried about affordable housing have grown dramatically since 2015 and conditions appear to be the worst for renters living in Salt Lake County, according to a new study.
The nonprofit Utah Foundation reports that of 20 measures in its yearly Community Quality of Life Index, public perceptions on housing affordability have seen the largest declines in recent years.
In 2015, nearly 16 percent of the state’s population labeled the availability of quality affordable housing in Utah as “poor,” the foundation said. That share rose to 28 percent in 2018.
Statewide, about 12 percent of respondents to Utah Foundation surveys said their personal housing costs were not affordable this year. That number hovered between 7 percent and 8 percent in Utah, Weber and Davis counties, and at 6 percent for Utah’s rural counties.
But in Salt Lake County — home to a third of the state’s population — that number was at 20 percent, or one in five residents.
"That's a big difference," Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard said in an interview. "That indicates the sore spot is Salt Lake County."
Renters and those with lower incomes were also more likely to say their housing was unaffordable, according to the report, titled “What’s the View From Your House? Housing Affordability Concerns in Utah.”
In a statement issued with the study’s release Thursday, foundation analysts said the findings suggested campaigns to improve housing affordability that are “targeted at renters deserve the lion’s share of attention from policymakers, particularly in Salt Lake County.”
Reichard said the findings also suggested a need for programs that help renters transition to homeownership.
The Utah Foundation study comes as government and business leaders have been highlighting a lack of affordable housing for residents at all income levels.
The trend threatens to dampen the state’s record economic growth, officials warn, as home prices and rents continue to climb at the same time new families and those moving to the state struggle to find housing that matches their budgets.
Housing advocates with Salt Lake City estimate a gap of at least 7,500 apartments affordable to low-income renters making $20,000 or less.
Not surprisingly, income appeared to be an influential factor in whether respondents to the Utah Foundation’s survey found their housing costs affordable.
Fully 27 percent of those living in households earning less than $30,000 said their housing costs were unaffordable, compared to 3 percent of respondents in households earning more than $100,000.
And one in four renters told the Utah Foundation their housing was unaffordable, compared to 4 percent of homeowners.
Foundation analysts said that contrast was probably due to a relative stability in costs in recent years for homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages, while rents have risen much faster than the cost of living, especially in Western states and those enjoying rapid economic growth, including Utah.