SALT LAKE CITY — The demand for rental housing along the Wasatch Front has led to a jump in the number of high-density apartment and condominium units throughout the area.

And while some residents worry the large projects could diminish nearby home values, a new study indicates the opposite is true as prices for rental and single-family properties continue to climb.

A report released by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah found that apartments built between 2010 and 2018 have had no adverse effects on the value of nearby single-family homes in suburban Salt Lake County. In fact, housing prices over the last decade have accelerated even as the residential real estate market has transitioned to the development of denser housing in a bid to slow the trend.

The study noted that existing residents often fear that densely developed housing will negatively impact their property values. However, the report shows that single-family homes located within half a mile of new construction apartment units saw higher overall price appreciation than houses located farther away.

Speaking Monday during a virtual roundtable discussion hosted by the Gardner Institute, senior research fellow Dejan Eskic said 9,600 rental units were built within the eight-year period of the study. Houses near those developments saw appreciation to their worth.

“When we look at the median market value per square foot of a single-family home, we see that homes that are within half a mile of the new apartments tend to have a higher per square foot value,” he said.

Homes located within 1/2 mile of a new apartment building experienced a 10% yearly increase in median value between 2010 and 2019, while those located farther away rose by 8.6%, he said.

The southeast area of Salt Lake County was the exception, with homes more than 1/2 mile away from new apartments experiencing higher average price appreciation than those situated less than 1/2 mile, the report states.

With high demand as one of the major contributing factors for the higher home values, a similar impact is felt in the overall rental market as more people look for apartments to live in. To that end, the state’s most populous county is working to develop solutions to address the growing issue of housing affordability.

“We work with local communities and developers in helping to finance some of the housing or at least try to fill the gap that developers need to make the units more affordable for a number of households that fall below 80% of (average median income),” said Michael Gallegos, Housing and Community Development director for Salt Lake County.

“In this particular case, when you’re looking at 60% and below-average median income for the affordability, knowing that our community has a great demand for lower cost housing in the areas of 50% to 30% of area median income — that’s a lot for us to respond to and it’s going to take some period of time.”

He said a shortage of 35,000 rental units currently exists statewide, something leaders are working hard to address.

“We’re struggling, and communities across the nation are as well. We have that additional challenge in our county of less developable land,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. “The answer really (is) we have to build differently. We will and can. We will continue to have multiacre parcels, we will continue to have that suburban feel in our community and we have to be smart about where and how we build. We are going to need to embrace density in our communities, and with that, there’s a responsibility of developers to do it well.”

One local developer said creating more density within the array of housing solutions will be a way to mitigate the affordability issue, but it must be done smartly and with vision.

“The report today moves us in the right direction,” said Cowboy Partners CEO and President Dan Lofgren. “Not because density all on its own assures affordability, but density does accommodate affordability and a lack of density can preclude affordability.”

“I hold fast to the notion that there is no part of our community that doesn’t get better when we nurture affordability and stability in housing,” he added.

Lofgren said that developers should be thoughtful about how they build their new projects, considering everything from concept design to unit size to amenity packages — all of those things that ultimately contribute to affordability.

“We need to be mindful of two questions. One is housing affordability, and one is affordable housing. Affordable housing meaning housing that fits in a very specific definition and creates opportunity for those households for whom the market doesn’t otherwise serve,” he explained.

“If we’re talking about housing affordability, then I’d like to see (some housing regulations) change that aggravate housing cost increases. But if we’re talking about affordable housing, (then it’s) trying to create opportunities for those households that 30%, 40% or 50% of (average median income) or even below 30%.”

“It’s about aggregation of resources we can use to create opportunities for those lower income households who are such a key part of our economy,” Lofgren said. “These are the people who make our city buzz. They are the people who make our community work.”