My first apartment cost $425 a month. I was able to afford that while working full time, making $8 an hour, as a cashier at Market Street Grill.
The Bigelow Apartments on 200 South 400 East is where I called home. Was it a luxury apartment? Not by a long shot. Was I able to afford it, even on a meager wage, while still having money for necessities and extras? Yes.
The Bigelow Apartments have been shuttered recently, thus further shortening the list of affordable housing in Salt Lake City.
A number of years later in a different apartment building, I received a letter in my mailbox informing me that the apartment building had been sold and my rent would be increasing nearly 40 percent. If I were to stay, I would be paying 41 percent of my monthly income. This is far greater than the 30 percent threshold established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1981.
I had a plan. Others are not so fortunate.
Utah is changing and it’s changing fast. Everywhere you look, a new apartment structure is being constructed and hew housing developments are steadily creeping south and west. In the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, the apartment vacancy rate is 5%.
Incredibly, even with this frenzied pace of construction, we still need affordable housing. Rapid demand means lower-income individuals are being priced out. The supply of affordable housing is increasingly shrinking, not only in Salt Lake City but in most every city across the nation.
Homelessness is a serious problem in the United States and its effects can be felt in every state, Utah included. According to HUD, roughly 553,742 people were homeless in January 2017 throughout the United States. The same data suggests that in the same month there were 2,852 people experiencing homelessness in Utah. These numbers do not reflect individuals living on the fringe of homelessness — those who are couch-surfing, living in motels or living in various other unstable housing situations.
Currently, the Salt Lake City “Fair Market Rent” (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,035 — an increase of 4.55% since 2017. FMR is estimated annually by HUD and is determined by how much renters are willing and able to pay in any given area. It also sets the standard for how much should be covered through Section 8, a government program which provides vouchers to low-income families to subsidize rents.
The unemployment rate in Utah is below the national average, currently resting comfortably at 3%. Most entry-level jobs require a relevant degree and multiple years of experience with a starting pay of $11 an hour. The minimum wage remains stagnant at $7.25, leaving few housing options for individuals working low-wage jobs.
Individuals would need to earn $17.02 an hour, working 40 hours a week, to a afford a two-bedroom rental at market price and still be able to afford daily necessities.
What’s my point?
Affordable housing is not a dirty word. It is a necessity for individuals who have not yet been able to catch up to the economic growth trends happening around us. Or for those of us who make a decent living but still have difficulty finding housing proportional to our income.
Someone’s inability to afford a luxury apartment must not dictate their ability to secure safe, affordable housing. There will always be low-wage workers. They have an important role in society. They serve our food, they clean our facilities, they do the best they can to get by. Everyone deserves a safe place to call home regardless of how much they bring home every paycheck.
Michelle Miller is the managing director of the Pioneer Park Coalition in Salt Lake City.