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Some Utah cities could run out of housing space by 2050, audit warns

Utah  housing
Posted at 3:41 PM, Nov 14, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will need to build 27,900 apartments or houses a year for the next 20 years just to keep up with forecasted growth, a new legislative audit warns.

The audit, prepared for leadership in the Utah State Legislature and made public on Tuesday, warned that "time is running short" for the state to execute an effective housing policy. It also accused some cities and counties of stifling apartment and high-density housing projects in favor of single-family homes.

"Utah’s significant population growth—combined with slower housing production after the Great Recession—has resulted in a shortage of housing units. Without enough housing to satisfy demand, home prices have increased, making it difficult for first-time and lower-income buyers to find housing within an affordable price range," the Legislative Auditor-General's Office wrote.

The audit urged a state-level housing policy combined with incentives and penalties to make changes.

Some communities seem to favor single-family homes and that poses its own problems, auditors wrote.

"Most of the land in Utah’s largest cities is currently designated for single-family detached homes, which means certain areas could begin to run out of space for housing before 2050," the audit said.

It recommended better coordination between the state and local governments on different types of housing, pointing to incentives offered in California and other states for high-density housing projects. Those other states have penalties for noncompliance, as well.

"Some Utah cities exercise their land use authority to circumvent the intent of new pro-housing laws while remaining technically within the bounds of the law. Such examples suggest that policymakers will have to fine-tune housing policies multiple times over several years. In addition, our limited review of specific complaints against cities found no widespread problems with statutory noncompliance," the audit said.

In response to the audit, the League of Cities & Towns — which advocates for municipalities on Utah's Capitol Hill — insisted work was being done to ensure an adequate housing supply, including more permits issued than any other period in state history and it has shown signs of progress.

"Unfortunately, significant economic headwinds in 2022 and 2023-which neither state nor local governments can influence-including interest rates, materials and labor shortages, and inflation, are reducing the ability of developers to produce more housing units," League director Cameron Diehl wrote.

The League also defended cities that were making decisions about housing.

"The League believes that most cities are using their land use authority responsibly to strategically plan for housing, infrastructure, open space, and educational and economic opportunities," Diehl wrote.

Read the audit here: