The American dream of owning a home is vanishing for many working-class Utahns because of elitist building ordinances being passed by the developing communities in Salt Lake Valley, says a housing adviser.
Each day, Paula Ciaburri of the Housing and Urban Development Financial Counseling Office in Salt Lake City tells people who have good credit and have qualified for middle-income housing that there isn't housing available in the price range and areas that they are interested in.Many of her clients are professionals who would be potential first-time homeowners, but they can't afford to live in the south valley. The areas with moderate housing prices to which she most frequently refers clients are Magna, Kearns, West Valley City and downtown Salt Lake City.
As the building boom has hit the south valley, communities have begun adopting restrictive ordinances such as mandating a minimum 1/3-acre lot size that drives the cost of homes up. Recently, Riverton passed an ordinance that requires homes be constructed with 50 percent brick, stucco or stone on the main floor.
While the Home Builders Association of Salt Lake is challenging Riverton's ordinance in court, contending that the city is overstepping its authority, Ciaburri challenges the morality of such "exclusive" restrictions.
"The Salt Lake area is already divided by social classes. By creating communities with the average housing price between $120,000 and $200,000, we're creating yet another social-class boundary.
"Where has the social conscience of our citizens gone? Because the housing market is good now, should communities be able to jump inside their bubbles and not worry about those who need affordable housing?" she asks.
Much of the money being poured into the housing market is coming from out of state, she asserts. "Is it fair for those moving here from out of state to inflate the market so Utahns can't afford housing?"
Communities should consider the needs of young families, the working class and the elderly when they debate building restrictions, she argues.
"I work with people who should be in permanent housing, but there just isn't enough available. Where's the incentive for builders to provide affordable housing if they can build one $200,000 home on a 1/3-acre lot instead of more moderately priced homes on smaller lots?"
As a housing counselor, Ciaburri also works with community block grants provided by cities for families trying to get into homes. But the homes can't be priced above $75,000 for families to receive financial assistance with their down payments.
As the market becomes dominated by higher-end homes, it has a domino affect of increasing the price of all housing and creating an additional financial squeeze for lower- to middle-income groups, she said.
"It's disheartening when a family works really hard to qualify for a home, but there isn't enough affordable housing to buy. They would like to get out of the renting trap and invest into something that has a future, but that opportunity is limited."