Housing Crunch illustration

Cache County, like the rest of the state, is growing. Projections show the area’s population doubling by 2075, and with that increase of people come concerns related to housing availability.

While some of Utah’s growth is coming from outside of the state, Rep. Val Potter said about 70 percent of the growth is internal.

“We have larger families than any other state,” Potter said. “If half or three-quarters of our kids stay in Utah, we have got to find a place for them.”

According to Potter, this growth is an opportunity, but it also carries with it housing-related problems that leaders at all levels of government in the state are working to address.

INEVITABLE GROWTH

Across Cache County, housing needs vary. In Logan, Mayor Holly Daines said the city already has a wide range of housing options from apartments to larger single-family homes, but more options that are both affordable and accessible need to be available for disabled people.

Mayor John Drew of Providence said he is concerned about the high housing costs in his city that price many people out of even multi-family options in the area. In Hyde Park, Mayor Sharidean Flint said the council has made efforts to try and increase density without impacting the community’s “small-town feel.”

While the feel of the valley will likely change as density and multifamily housing increase, Potter said the growth that is coming is inevitable.

“Cache Valley is not going to remain unchanged,” Potter said. “The best thing that we can do is plan well for the future because change is going to happen.”

During the 2019 legislative session, Potter co-sponsored a bill focused on encouraging municipalities to make efforts to increase housing affordability in their communities. The bill, Senate Bill 34, was drafted by the state commission on housing affordability, which began in 2018.

The bill included a list of about 20 actions local governments could take, such as rezoning for densities that allow for moderate-income housing, allowing for the renting of accessory dwelling units or allowing for single-room units.

Municipalities that are making efforts towards at least three or four items on the list are eligible for money from the Utah Department of Transportation to invest in transportation corridors in their communities.

Daines said she is grateful the Legislature recognized that one-size would not fit all cities and provided alternatives for how they pursue housing affordability.

“I learned things from being required to do a housing plan,” Daines said. “Hopefully other cities will as well and maybe decide what works best for them.”

MORE TO DO

When it comes to the work of the Commission on Housing Affordability, Drew believes they need to be doing more for their efforts to actually be effective.

In the state code that created the commission last year, the group was tasked with doing a variety of things related to housing affordability, such as increasing public and governmental awareness around the need, making specific recommendations to address the need, and evaluating the effectiveness of what is being done.

From Drew’s perspective, the commission has mostly focused on tax credits, subsidies and set-asides, things that create affordable housing for low-income individuals, rather than investigating the systematic issues related to housing affordability. If the commission was doing everything state code tasked them with, he believes more progress would be happening.

In talking about housing affordability efforts, both Potter and Senator Jacob Anderegg, the other sponsor of SB34, acknowledge that there are more issues to solve. In a Salt Lake Tribune article written earlier this year, Anderegg said the bill was not a “silver bullet.”

As the 2020 legislative session approaches, Potter said more legislation on housing affordability is being drafted, including a proposal for both one-time and on-going appropriations to the state’s Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which helps support affordable housing options for Utah families.

Money for this fund had been requested as part of SB34 last year, but Potter said the funds were not awarded because the request was not specific enough. This time, he said the request will be accompanied by a specific outline for what the money will be used for.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

While Paul Davis, the business expansion and retention outreach coordinator at the Bear River Council of Governments, said SB34 doesn’t hurt the housing situation but that it is going to take more than municipalities making a plan to address the housing issues.

From his perspective, Davis said the best thing that can be done to help with housing affordability right now is communicate to businesses that they have to increase their wages to match housing expenses.

“It costs a lot of money to have turnover,” Davis said. “It is a lot easier to pay somebody enough money to live off of and keep them then it is to replace them.”

Davis said the availability of housing is one of the largest reasons why housing costs are so high right now. Because there are so many people who need housing, Davis said the prices keep increasing. Until the supply and demand even out, wage increases will be an important part of getting people into homes.

Mayor Drew also noted this issue.

“We have a classic imbalance of supply and demand,” Drew said.

According to Drew, the only thing that is going to fix that is developing more housing units.

MOVING THE NEEDLE

Many of the policies Potter is advocating for and the actions he is encouraging local governments to take are not ones he supported in the past. Before being elected to the legislature, Potter was the mayor of North Logan and said he sided with community members who were against higher density.

“I was very much listening to the people who said ‘don’t allow the subdivisions and these developments smaller lots,’” Potter said. “And I fought to make sure that that happened.”

As he saw larger lots on the city’s east bench that covered in weeds because no one could afford to water the area, Potter said he began to “catch the vision” and want to downsize the area so the lots were more affordable and manageable for buyers.

Watching his children grow up and seeing the challenges they face in buying houses as well as hearing about the needs of community members has also shaped his view.

“Those who are in positions to buy homes should not sit back and just let the laws happen,” Potter said. “They should try to get involved and help with dictating policy.”

When it comes to communities that are trying to adapt to growth and those who are making decisions related to growth, Potter said it is important to remember who is getting priced out of the market.

“They say, we don’t want ‘these’ people in our community,” Potter said. “Well, we do want these people in our community. We really do. We want the younger generation. We want these people with new skills, new attitudes to drive the economy of the next generation.”

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