Presentation to Summit County Council paints bleak picture of housing shortage
Since 2010, the number of jobs in Summit County and the number of people living here have been growing each year. The jobs are growing faster than the population, usually a welcome sign for a community eyeing expanded tax revenues.
But as the Summit County Council heard last week, the area’s housing supply, while growing, is not keeping up with demand. The housing shortage means workers are increasingly commuting into the county — approaching 17,000 each day.
That exacerbates other problems the council often addresses like traffic and environmental stewardship.
The council at a special meeting last week amended its general plan and adopted a moderate income housing report that includes goals to increase the housing supply for people who earn less than the area median income. In 2019, that’s $109,800 for a family of four and $76,860 for an individual.
The action was a response to a state mandate that requires communities to address housing to maintain access to a pool of transportation money that topped $700 million last year.
Jeff Jones, the county’s economic development and housing director, laid out the situation to the council, and the news wasn’t good.
According to Jones, about half the residential units in the county are classified as non-occupied — mostly second homes — and only 12.5% are available for rent.
In a normal market, the ratio of owner/renter housing should approach 60/40, Jones said. A service-based economy like Summit County’s could tilt even more toward the rental market.
The number of people who live here and commute elsewhere, likely for higher paying jobs, is growing, Jones said, as is the number of people who commute to work here, likely for service-industry work. There hasn’t been as much growth in the number of people who live and work in Summit County.
Those who have housing are sticking around — a plurality of residents moved into their owner-occupied units from 2000-2009, while most renters moved into their homes from 2010-2014, the data shows.
Two Snyderville Basin planning commissioners were present at the meeting and commented that projects they’d approved that included plans for rental units have now turned into condominiums after developers reported that they couldn’t meet their margins if they offered rentals.
“The reality is we have zero rentals there in Silver Creek Village,” Planning Commissioner Thomas Cooke said of the 1,300-unit development that includes 330 affordable housing units. “That’s a challenge — we know how important the rental units are.”
Though wages are rising, Jones reported that, when the area’s cost of living is factored in, a Summit County resident’s buying power is significantly lower than residents of neighboring Wasatch and Salt Lake counties and the state and national averages.
And wage increases haven’t kept up with the real estate market.
“From August 2015 going forward, the upward mobility in (home) price was unbelievable — a 100% increase,” Jones said. “Doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.”
He added that from 2010 to 2019, wages have increased 63.5% and that the disparity between the growth of real estate prices and wages creates a host of problems.
Council Chair Roger Armstrong commented that this issue isn’t affecting Summit County alone, a point underscored by Jones’ assertion that for the first time in four decades, the state of Utah has a housing shortage, pegged at more than 50,000 units.
Armstrong recommended gathering a commission of regional players to study the issue, including representatives from the County Council, the Summit County planning commissions, the Mountainland Association of Governments, Habitat for Humanity, the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust and others.
He also suggested coordinating with state and national representatives to seek solutions.
The plan the council adopted includes a provision to consider starting a Summit County housing authority.
Jones pointed to tax credit developments as a possible path to increase the housing supply, a federal program whereby developers receive cash up front from companies that purchase federal tax credits.
Councilor Chris Robinson has suggested using the county’s land holdings and ability to borrow money cheaply to build a housing project itself. As the landowner, he pointed out, the county would be able to provide cheaper rent, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to give up ownership to a developer.
Councilor Kim Carson suggested there has been recent movement at the state level on regulating nightly rentals like AirBnB, something that is currently prohibited. Jones said nightly rentals likely impact the number of rental units there are on the market when property owners can make more money renting the apartments out on a short-term basis.
Jones said it would make financial sense for those who make less than half of the area median income — $38,430 for an individual — to rent. Someone who makes 60% of the average, about $46,000, would have to find a $152,500 home to buy to avoid being financially burdened.
“Finding the product to match that is the hard part,” Jones said. “It’s almost impossible.”
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