What will happen if we don’t make housing easier to find, Editorial Board asks

Utah home prices have skyrocketed and inventory has shrunk, leading to many being priced out of the rental and homeownership markets.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) This house located at 327 E Nechatel Dr. in Draper lists for $547, 900, Feb. 3, 2022.

Caseworkers recently told The Tribune that a powerful Utah law firm — one that files nearly half of the state’s eviction cases — keeps a database that landlords use to screen potential tenants.

The law offices of Kirk Cullimore denied they maintain any kind of “black list,” though numerous renters insist that it exists and has blocked them.

One of the former social workers said several homeless clients were rejected by property managers based partly on information that came from the Cullimore office.

It’s hard enough for renters or prospective homeowners to find a place to live in Utah, without a local law firm creating additional barriers to entry.

In fact, Utah’s housing market faces a severe imbalance that has created record price increases, per a recent Kem C. Gardner Institute report.

More than half of Utah households were unable to afford a median-priced home last year. For renters, the path to ownership is even more bleak. In 2020, the share of renters priced out was 72.8%.

And if you’re fortunate enough to buy a home these days, you’re likely paying thousands (if not tens of thousands) over asking price. This is in part because we’re short at least 45,000 housing units.

In March 2022, we learned the median sales price of single-family homes in two major Wasatch Front counties is nearing another staggering marker: $600,000 ($580,000 in Salt Lake County and $590,000 in Utah County).

By 2065, the Wasatch Front population will be comparable to that of Seattle-Tacoma. We know we’re going to grow.

And we all want a livable, happy valley where our canyons and open spaces are preserved and where we don’t have to battle traffic for miles to get anywhere we need to go. Where our kids are not priced out of the market.

So what do we do?

Over the next few months, The Tribune Editorial Board will elevate potential policy solutions brought forward by leaders and experts across Utah and others beyond our state’s borders.

  • We’ll look closely at density along transit corridors and elsewhere. What do city and county zoning regulations permit? Are we building enough high-quality and affordable condo and apartment buildings?

  • We’ll explore potential regulatory solutions. For example, other U.S. cities are weighing a tax on those that flip homes. In Canada, foreign homebuyers were recently banned for two years in an effort to cool the market.

  • And we’ll also look at transit solutions that will better connect housing to our centers of employment.

There are bright spots. Accessory dwelling units, while still difficult to build due to permitting and construction costs, are slowly appearing in Salt Lake City. And in some expensive communities, like Park City, Vail, owner of Park City Mountain Resort, is offering hundreds of employees temporary housing.

We have some tools to address these issues, and we will need them.

Growing regions where state and local governments do not make it easier to build affordable housing face a troubling future, demographers say. It’s past time for Utah to get serious about solving for its housing issues.