SALT LAKE CITY — A typical renter in Utah earns $14.94 per hour, about $5 short of what’s needed to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment.
And COVID-19 has made affordable housing more of an issue for people, including many for whom a stable place to live was out of reach before the pandemic.
A new report the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Utah Housing Coalition released Tuesday found workers in the state need to make $19.83 an hour to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market value or $1,031 a month.
In Salt Lake County, where the affordable housing problem is most acute, the “housing wage” jumps to $22.62.
About a third of Utahns rent their house or apartment.
The annual report titled Out of Reach shows 90% of residents don’t earn enough for a two-bedroom unit. Utah has the 24th highest housing wage in the country, according to the report.
“The time for housing support and for creating affordability both through our workers’ wages and housing costs has never been more poignant,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at news conference Tuesday.
The report does not take into account additional fees Utah renters must pay as part of their monthly leases for things such as garbage pickup or parking spaces. The fees may tack on an additional $200 to $400 a month.
“This is not good for our hardest working individuals that keep our economy going and have been there for us during this pandemic,” said Tara Rollins, Utah Housing Coalition executive director.
Many low-paid workers have been able to keep their jobs through the pandemic but still not afford where they live, she said. They don’t qualify for rental assistance, but those collecting unemployment, including an extra $600 a week through the federal coronavirus relief bill, can pay their rent despite not having a job, Rollins said.
“COVID-19 has affected the people we depend on every day when we go out to do whatever we need to do. A lot of us are privileged and still working but yet being able to stay safe at home while we do that and they’re out on the frontlines. And these are the very people we don’t want living in our neighborhoods,” she said.
Housing is more than just a shelter, she said.
“During this pandemic we’ve been depending on our housing for our health, to stay healthy. We’re depending on it for education, to teach our children during the school year. We have been depending on it for employment. Many people are working from home,” Rollins said. “But right now people can’t afford their housing.”
Affordable housing advocates say Utah has not seen an uptick in people losing their housing since the state’s freeze on new evictions based on nonpayment expired in mid-May, despite pleas to extend it another two months. They attribute that to federal coronavirus relief fund for rental assistance, federal stimulus checks and added unemployment benefits.
But when those subsidies end, advocates expect evictions to rise. Rollins said landlords need to be paid but hope they would allow tenants some flexibility.
Salt Lake City is considering zoning changes to encourage affordable housing, noting it is harder to find in “high opportunity” areas, Mendenhall said. The city has set aside $3.5 million to help offset the cost of property for developers in those areas.
The city also will look at “inclusionary zoning” along transit lines, including four bus lines that Salt Lake City pays the Utah Transit Authority to run so the routes remain intact, the mayor said.
Housing for low-income people is becoming less affordable each year. Last year, Utah’s “housing wage” for a two-bedroom apartment was $18.30 an hour, $1.09 less than this year.
Working at minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in Utah, a person must have 2.7 full-time jobs or work 109 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom unit.
Income has not kept pace with rising rent, which has gone up 7% to 8%, said Patrice Dickson, chief operating officer of social services for Utah Community Action. In Salt Lake City, rent has ballooned 23.8% in the past five years, according to the Utah Rent Report.
“We are seeing a large number of families and individuals who cannot keep up and are seeking rental assistance,” Dickson said.
Housing is no longer a shelter but an investment, Rollins said.
“A portfolio has to perform,” she said. “That’s why rents keep going up.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that housing is health care as officials across the country issued stay-at-home orders. But having a stable place to live was already out of reach for millions of people before the pandemic, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
More than 7.7 million extremely low-income renters were spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. The compounding of high job losses and the lack of access to proper health care and resources considerably depleted already limited resources and access, the coalition says.
Millions of households have dealt with a decline in wages through layoffs, furloughs or decreased work hours the past few months, and many struggle to afford rent. There are no states, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country where renters can afford a home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing, according to the coalition.
“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home,” Diane Yentel, national coalition president and CEO, said in a statement. “The harm and trauma of this enduring challenge is laid bare during COVID-19, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes during a pandemic. The lack of affordable homes for the lowest-income people is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19.”