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Opinion: How to get Utah’s cost of housing back on the right path

Rising, unstable costs have priced many Utahns out of the market. Here are some things that will help.

Homes under construction in Magna.
Homes near completion at C.W. Farms, an Ivory Homes development in Magna, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The Salt Lake City metro area is the third-most competitive housing market in the nation, according to a July ranking by Redfin, behind only Boston and San Diego.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

If recent U.S. population reports have shown us anything, it’s that Utah is one of the best places to live in America.

According to the 2020 census, no state’s population grew more in the last decade than Utah’s. Americans are moving to Utah to experience our unbeatable natural beauty, abundance of opportunity and warm community. I count myself blessed to raise my family in the Beehive State.

However, the rapid uptick in Americans moving to Utah has brought some major growing pains, and nowhere are these more keenly felt than in the housing market.

Rising and unstable prices have squeezed many Utah families from the housing market. For example, a home in Nibley recently sold for $465,000. That home was built in 2016 with a construction value of $230,000. The average listing price in Nibley has risen by 25.2% over the last year to around $400,000. This problem is not just isolated to Cache County. From the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, the median price of a single family home has risen by 23% in Weber County and 21% in Davis County.

Utahns dreaming of home ownership are facing the reality that this may not be possible, at least for now. Renters are also struggling to find affordable living situations. According to a July CoreLogic Home Price Insights report, home prices in Utah rose 20.4% from May 2020 to May 2021, the third highest in the country. Utah’s 2020 Affordable Housing Report found that 40% of Utah’s 284,935 renters are cost burdened and spend at least 30% of their income on rent.

The reasons behind skyrocketing housing prices are as complex as they are varied. One significant challenge is a weak supply chain for construction materials. The U.S. was already experiencing a 33% shortage of lumber before the pandemic. America’s Western states, including Utah, disproportionately rely on timber from federal lands. However, in the last 30 years, the amount of timber harvested from federal forests has been greatly reduced from 10.5 billion board feet (BBF) per year to just 2.5 BBF because of legislation, litigation and poor policies. Since the 1980s, there has been a 75% reduction in timber harvested from federal forests in Western states.

The pandemic then catalyzed new interest in home ownership and remodeling, causing demand for lumber and other materials to explode. Paired with COVID-19 related restrictions and disruptions, this severely limited the supply of construction materials. In May of this year, the price of lumber hit an all-time high, four times higher than the price during May of 2020.

This cost increase falls on the shoulders of hardworking Americans. The cost of a single-family home rose by an average of $35,872, and prices for multi-family homes rose by an average of $13,000. Even though the price of lumber is decreasing from its peak in May, many experts warn that prices won’t drop near pre-pandemic levels any time soon.

These price increases come as Americans are experiencing the impacts of the Biden administration’s irresponsible federal spending. Families are facing rapid inflation, and the Consumer Price Index has risen 5.4% since this time last year. With prices of gas, groceries, cars and utility bills going up, inflation counteracts the savings families gained from the 2017 tax cuts and exacerbates the financial burdens Utahns are experiencing from our unaffordable housing market.

To work toward a solution on housing affordability, I hosted a roundtable discussion at the Utah State Capitol and invited local leaders in the housing sector, including builders, developers, real estate agents, local officials, and representatives from Hill Air Force Base. These leaders and experts highlighted flaws with regulations, fee and approval processes, inventory and workforce issues that contribute to Utah’s challenging housing market. We need to cooperate with state and local governments in order to unleash our supply and help lower costs.

As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I am part of conversations about how federal forest management and improved sawmill capacity can help reduce lumber prices and improve supply chain resiliency moving forward. We are hard at work building a foundation to address housing crises and long-term sustainability of our supply chains. I also support legislation like the bipartisan Build More Housing Near Transit Act to construct more middle-income housing in walkable areas, and the bipartisan Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act to increase home construction through better zoning, by-right development and faster permitting.

The flaws in our housing industry have been a long time in the making, and crafting a solution is an uphill process. But I am working with community leaders across the 1st District and my colleagues in Congress to support policies that can get us back on the right path. I am committed to fighting so that 1st District families can live affordably and enjoy and invest in our communities.

Rep. Blake Moore represents Utah’s 1st Congressional District.