Utah’s housing needs are actually growing faster than the state. Here’s why and one solution.

One program offers a solution to Utah’s lack of affordable housing.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christina Oliver, Director of Housing and Community Development for Workforce Services, shares some remarks about Aspen Village apartments in West Valley City on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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With the peach season only lasting a few weeks, it can be a race against the clock to can and preserve all the peaches from West Valley City Council member Scott Harmon’s home before they go bad. But the act of saving the peaches and not letting them rot reminds Harmon of the nonprofit work the Utah Housing Preservation Fund (UHPF) does.

Rather than canning peaches, UPHF buys (sometimes rundown) apartment complexes, renovates them “and takes care of them so they don’t spoil,” Harmon said on Thursday during a news conference commemorating UPHF’s fourth multi-family property, Aspen Village, in West Valley City.

Founded in 2020, UPHF strives to preserve the existing affordable rental stock from being sold, remodeled and listed at unaffordable prices. Since the nonprofit launched a little over two years ago, they have purchased and preserved 390 units (including currently 164 units under contract) throughout Salt Lake County.

UHPF purchased the 90-unit property, located on 3043 West 3500 South last October. Every unit has two-bedrooms, a washer and dryer, full kitchen and new appliances. Tenants pay around $1,100 per month to live in the apartments across the street from a Trax line and a short distance from West Valley’s city center. The average rent for a two-bedroom in the area is roughly $1,400, a 24% increase from the previous year, according to Zumper.

With the purchase of the Aspen Village, UHPF Fund Manager Doug Harris says they were able to prevent 90 families from displacement and house 13 refugee families, three families experiencing homelessness and multiple domestic violence survivors.

The need for more affordable housing is growing faster than the state of Utah. Within the next three years, Harris says the state is expected to lose 4,000 affordable units as leases expire. Additionally, Christina Oliver, the director of housing and community development for the Department of Workforce Services, noted nearly 73% of renters were priced out of homeownership in 2020.

“We’re worried that our children and grandchildren won’t be able to live in our state, let alone live in the neighborhoods in which they grew up,” Oliver said. “We are worried that they will be forced to move.”

UPHF’s mission has support from various stakeholders, like Intermountain Healthcare, The Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation and Zion Bank, forking over money for the cause. UHPF has secured another $100 million to continue maintaining affordable housing through its efforts, including about $30 million from the state of Utah.

“We need to be honest with ourselves,” Oliver said. “If we have affordable housing in our community, we need to preserve those units and we need to invest in funds like the Housing Preservation Fund.”

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aspen Village apartments located in West Valley City on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.

The governor’s budget recommends setting aside $100 million for affordable housing throughout Utah, which has legislative support but the funds haven’t been officially allocated.

Moving forward, UHPF hopes to raise more money and work with more stakeholders to expand their footprint across the state, such as Summit County and Washington County.

“Preserving affordable housing units with the intent to hold them indefinitely makes us a permanent part of the solution,” Doug Harris with UHPF said, “and an answer to the affordable housing crisis — one that will have a lasting impact on Utah and on Utahns prospering.”

Correction: In 2020, 73% of Utahns were priced out of homeownership, not the rental market.

Editor’s note: Clark Ivory is a member of the Innovation Lab’s Advisory Council.