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Davis Journal

Grim reality of the housing crisis in Utah – by the numbers

Jul 28, 2023 08:51AM ● By Braden Nelsen

DAVIS COUNTY—Shelter is a basic human necessity. Along with food and water, it fills some of the most basic needs for survival. In the modern era, there are seemingly many options for shelter or housing, but, things are more dire than they may seem.

Since the beginning, owning a home has been a key factor in the American Dream, and for over 200 years, it has been fairly achievable for many. It has been one of the biggest things in the 20th century that set the United States apart from the rest of the world: a person could start from scratch, work hard, and have their own home.

Of course, as population increased, this became more and more difficult. Housing has, in recent years, struggled to keep up with demand. Whereas in the mid-to-late 20th century, it was common for people to be able to buy a home where they needed to, these options have severely dwindled. 

For example, as recently as 1990, the median house value in the state of Utah was only $68,000. Ten years later, in 2000, it had only jumped up to $146,100. Compare this to the 2023 median house price of $493,221, and it’s plain to see there’s an issue. Yes, inflation does play a role in house prices, but, the numbers don’t reflect that inflation is the only reason the price has changed.

In 1990, the median household income for the state of Utah was $49,221. This means that the average Utahn was making about 72% of their mortgage annually. What about interest rates? Admittedly, those were higher in 1990, coming in at 10.31%, but, those rates steadily fell, allowing many to refinance. 

Jumping forward 10 years to the year 2000, median income bumped up to $58,863, a 19.5% increase. This was significant, but still slightly lower than the inflation rate, which would have required a 32% increase in wages. But what about home prices? From 1990 to 2000 home prices had a whopping 114% increase, and as devastating as that sounds, that wasn’t the worst of it.

Comparing the data from 1990 and 2023, the grim reality becomes shockingly clear. As compared to the median home price of $68,000 and income of $49,221 in 1990, Utahns are now pulling in a median income of $87,649, only $30,000 more than in 2000. This means that while Utahns in 1990 were making 72% of their mortgage annually, now, they are making a meager 17% of their mortgage.

Interest rates are lower certainly than in 1990, but not by much, with most hovering around 6-7%. All of this is to say that, conservatively, if Utahns were paying the same for a house today, as they would have in 1990, the average single-family home in the state would actually have to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,756. So, what’s the reason for the over $300,000 discrepancy? 

It’s certainly not inflation. With an average inflation rate of 2.49% annually since 1990, a house would only cost $153,000. Cost of material and labor? While this may affect newer builds, materials and labor aren’t a factor for houses built decades before the buyer comes to the market. The only really feasible answer is supply and demand.

There is a significant disproportion between the population of Utah and the number of homes currently on the market. So, what about rent? This too, can offer challenges to the middle class in Utah. The median monthly rent in Utah comes in at a staggering $1,900, which is, according to some studies, higher than the average mortgage payment.

This means that renters are potentially paying more each month for their apartment than they would a house, but that’s only if they can afford that kind of rent in the first place. So, how are people managing this? How do individuals and families afford a place to live, groceries, gas, the necessities, and things like travel or entertainment?

Many don’t. While there are many middle-class individuals and families in Utah, many are living in substandard housing simply because that’s where they can afford to live. Many go without vacations, without eating out, without many of the things they should be able to enjoy in life, only because they’re stuck paying an exorbitant amount of money to rent. 

With the middle class being the backbone of the American Economy, something needs to be done. Developments in the housing crises have severely crippled the upward mobility of many Americans, cementing them in poverty, either legitimately, or the ubiquitous “house poor,” without even owning a house. 

While of course house and rent prices range across the state, these extreme prices have come to affect every area. In Davis County, for example, the median home price in 2023 has been $520,000, pricing out many middle-class families and leaving room for only the extremely wealthy.  

Simply put, not enough is being done to address the housing crisis in the state, and unless drastic action is taken, more and more citizens will be pushed either into homelessness or, out of state. Both of these options will not only hurt the economy but Utah’s citizens personally as well.