Utah's strong economy has begun to take its toll on low-income renters, making a serious housing shortage worse.
A recent study by the Low Income Housing Information Service has illuminated the extent of the problem. About one-third of state residents who fall below poverty guidelines can't afford the rent on a one-bedroom apartment. Nearly half of those who need a two-bedroom unit can't pay the going rate. Overall, more than 16,500 Utah families use at least 50 percent of their incomes paying landlords.As people clamor to move to the Wasatch Front, many apartment owners have raised rents dramatically, forcing out renters who can't keep up. It's the natural result of high demand and low supply. Some landlords have tried going a step further, charging fees for the opportunity of getting on a waiting list. Wisely, Salt Lake City voted last year to outlaw this practice. Other cities need to do the same.
But when it comes to the overall problem, local and state governments need to develop creative ways to increase the number of low-rent apartments. Financing vehicles, such as the Utah Housing Trust Fund, which encourages partnerships between public and private enterprises, should be strengthened, and quickly. With more large companies planning to locate along the Wasatch Front, the housing shortages promise to get worse.
Housing activists have called for the establishment of a task force of officials from the Legislature and the governor's office to confront the crisis. The goal would be to establish statewide policies to improve housing access.
That's a good idea. If the state ignores it's low-income housing problem, before long the positive economic-development climate will disappear, and that would hurt all segments of the population.