Tribune editorial: The rent is too damn high

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction at the former Granite Furniture in Sugar House continues at a quick pace as the new Sugarmont Apartments takes shape on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. New Census data shows that Salt Lake City has surpassed 200,000 residents, and again is the state's fastest-growing city by numbers. It added 5,891 residents between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017.

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

— Michael Corleone, “The Godfather”

The concern that there might not be enough affordable housing for the millions of people who are being born in, and moving to, Utah generally and the Wasatch Front communities in particular is no longer limited to those directly affected, to activists for the poor or to local governments.

It has become a stumbling block for businesses, their associations and leaders who, having read the local academic research on the issue, are calling for action.

It’s time.

Despite all that construction that has been so visible along I-15, in downtown Salt Lake City and in communities large and small throughout the state, the fact remains that housing that is within the financial reach of working-class families remains in seriously short supply. Many of the apartment projects that are being thrown up in Salt Lake County are marketed as “luxury apartments” because, apparently, there is a never-ending demand for such properties among people who can afford the $1,000-plus a month leases.

For households who can’t make that kind of rent, the shortage is acute.

A detailed analysis from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute puts the number of units the areas needs but doesn’t have at 50,000. At least.

Such a shortage affects people up and down the economic spectrum — from people on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness to middle-class families trying to get a start, to businesses, old and new, seeking to recruit talent from anywhere that isn’t California, where housing is even more unreachable. Or New York, where the problem is so bad they have a political party called “The Rent Is Too Damn High.”

The Salt Lake Chamber is taking the matter very seriously and has begun efforts to touch base with city and county leaders around the area in order to impress upon them the need to draw zoning laws, development policies and master plans with an eye toward encouraging higher-density developments wherever possible. The response from too many local elected officials has, so far, been lukewarm at best.

That’s not going to cut it.

Unless we build a moat around the Wasatch Front, or a global economic meltdown kills the upward pressure on real estate prices, the population of our communities is going to grow, and grow rapidly. Statewide, the headcount is reasonably expected to grow from today’s 3 million to 5 million-ish by 2050.

We have to put them somewhere. We can plan, zone, encourage, direct, finance, tax-incent, think globally and act locally.

Or we can pretend the problem isn’t there and let the solution be an unplanned sprawl of fought-over housing developments that are as bad as the no-growth crowd is afraid of.