Utah Foundation: New study addresses dramatic home price and rent increases

Price spikes pushing home ownership out of reach for some Utahns

The Utah Foundation released the first part of its new study, Is the Middle Missing? A Guide to Expanding Options for Utah Homebuyers and Renters. The first installment, “The Scope of the Challenge,” examines Utah’s housing problem and introduces middle housing as one means of addressing it.

“Missing Middle Housing” is a term that encompasses a variety of multi-unit housing buildings that are house-scale, facilitate neighborhood walkability, accommodate changing demographics and preferences, and are available to people with a range of incomes. Middle housing offers the potential to increase the supply of housing, but in a way that is not objectionable to most neighbors and with a standard of design that can improve upon the neighborhoods. There are obstacles to increasing this type of housing, though they are not insurmountable.

The guide is separated into four parts. The subsequent parts will detail middle housing and where it is located in the state; explain Utahns’ housing preferences; and look at obstacles and opportunities to increase the availability of middle housing.

Among the findings of Part I:

  • More than 80% of Utahns feel that home prices and rents are too high. Indeed, the cost of housing in Utah has been skyrocketing – with a year-over-year appreciation of 29% at September 2021.
  • From 2010 to 2021, an inflation-adjusted mortgage payment with 10% down on a median-priced Utah home increased by $469 from $1,131 to $1,600.
  • Over time, the cost of lower-priced homes has increased more than higher-priced ones, so the attainability of homeownership with affordable mortgages has disappeared for some Utahns.
  • Most respondents to the recent Utah Foundation development-preference survey do not think they could afford the homes they currently own if they wanted to purchase them today.
  • Nearly 90% of survey respondents are worried about housing costs, but even more are worried about young Utahns’ costs.
  • Rents in Utah have increased dramatically during the past 20 years, and especially in just the last two years; for example, Davis County and Utah County rents increased more than 50% from January 2019 to July 2021.
  • Utah’s rapid population growth is projected to continue. While the younger population is expected to shrink in percentage terms, the number of young households is expected to grow in sheer numbers – suggesting a need for lower-cost, entry-level housing options.
  • The increases in home prices and rents are due in part to Utah’s 45,000 housing-unit shortfall – the difference between new households and new residential dwellings since the Great Recession.
  • Middle housing is a possible answer in terms of prices. For instance, in Salt Lake County, the August 2021 median (or middle) sale price of townhomes was $390,000, while for single-family homes, the median sale price was $546,450.

Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard predicted that urban forms addressing the missing middle will gain increased momentum in the coming years. “The examples of effectively executed middle options are beginning to proliferate,” Reichard said. “If developers and policymakers focus on what works, these options will grow in public esteem and provide much-needed entry points for home buyers and renters.”

Part I of Is the Middle Missing? A Guide to Expanding Options for Utah Homebuyers and Renters is available on the Utah Foundation website at www.utahfoundation.org. Special thanks to Salt Lake County, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Y2 Analytics for providing project-based support to this project.