Housing shortage: Report finds ways to help middle-income housing in Utah

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When it comes to average accommodation, you have to have style.

So says the latest report from the Utah Foundation, an independent research group that shows in new surveys that 72% of people say “style is the most important factor in their housing preferences.” .

And the style is?

You guessed it, detached single family units, extra points if the garage is not visible.

While Utahns’ preference for single-family homes seems like a no-brainer, the report also fleshes out a number of nuances, even paradoxes, that can give land-use authorities and housing advocates a better sense of how to proceed to fill the “45,000 Door Housing Gap”, the number of Utah home seekers who, according to the foundation’s analysis, have been squeezed out of one of the world’s largest real estate markets. hot spots in the country with runaway costs resulting from historically low interest rates, supply chain delays, and a booming population.

The report, Utahns’ Development Preferences, released this month, is the third installment in a larger study that examines “Missing Middle Housing,” a class of multifamily housing options that fall between single-family homes and large apartment complexes. Popular examples include side-by-side duplexes, cottage yards, and townhouses, which, along with other mid-range housing, are seen as key to relieving pressure on the state’s housing crisis.

Still, mid-range housing projects have met with resistance, as many neighborhoods bemoan density increases of any kind. The study aimed to unravel the intricacies of NIMBY objections by asking survey respondents to view images of different homes and developments before asking them to identify what would “make a good addition” to their neighborhood, defined as the area less than five minutes walk. from a respondent’s home.

The survey’s visual emphasis helped the researchers isolate important preference factors, leading to a compelling conclusion: multi-family developments, according to the researchers, will gain more support if they follow the right designs.

“If a development looks like something that reflects the kind of style they traditionally know, people don’t care as much” when it comes to adding additional housing to their neighborhoods, Shawn Teigen said. , the author of the report.

“Utahans’ preference for the appearance of single-family homes suggests that mid-range housing will be better accepted if developed in a way that mimics the style and scale of single-family homes,” the study concludes. .

The survey results identify where people may be willing to meet in the middle – somewhere between what they want and can afford – and provide guidance for policy makers keen to generate housing stock without rocking the boat. NIMBY by encouraging them to explore options beyond single-family, single-family home developments that alone cannot save Utah from its spiraling housing problems, Teigen explained.

The conclusions of the report, however, lack a mandate and leave intact a fine sample of disagreements and contradictions. For example, although 60% of respondents supported more affordable housing options in their neighborhood, less than half were willing to accept intermediate housing and 18% strongly opposed it.

“People have a lot of conflicting interests. They want to live near work, live near a grocery store, and have bike lanes and trails — but they also want to have big houses with big yards, but there are tradeoffs,” Teigen said. “People no longer want apartments in their city. But when you articulate it as an aspect of housing affordability, they can start to see how important it is.

The foundation’s work can help bridge the gap between supply-side housing advocates and established communities who fear that increased density will undermine neighborhood character. The work says NIMBY’s attitudes will soften, at least in theory, if potential developments “look like single-family homes”, suggesting that bungalow aesthetics can offer a useful middle ground between homebuilders and developers. longtime residents.

The issue in the survey where Utahns seemed most evenly divided was over type and price range; half prefer housing in their neighborhood to be similar in style and price range, while around 40% said they would prefer a variety of prices and types.

However, proponents point out that intermediate housing is a phenomenon that is not limited to size and price range. Rather, it is hoped that it will be a lifestyle and community-oriented development class that can adapt to changing demographics and make the neighborhood walkable.

“A big part of intermediate housing is that it has a walking element. If you have a school nearby, a grocery store and a park, and you can ride a bike, those are all things we aim for when promoting intermediate housing,” said Teigen, who praised the Daybreak community in southern Jordan as an example. .

Price range, however, is a priority for most Utah renters and homeowners. The report notes that more than half of current homeowners say they cannot afford the home they live in today, a belief that matches new figures released this week by the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, who report that home prices across the state rose in the last year by 27%, surpassing the 43-year high and bringing the median price of single-family homes sold in Salt Lake County in 2021 to $533,000.

Filling in the “missing middle”, the foundation says, will help.

Intermediate housing, of course, is nothing new. In fact, the foundation’s analysis of residential housing permits indicates a growing shift from single-family to mid-range housing projects in major markets across the state, including Salt Lake County, where 32% of new residential units fall into the intermediate housing category compared to 24% for detached single-family homes. The trend hasn’t caught on everywhere – for example in Washington County, Utah’s fastest growing county, anchored by St. George, single family detached housing is still the dominant style of expansion.

One such example of an intermediate housing project is the Capitol Park Cottages project at F Street and Capitol Park Avenue in the Salt Lake City Avenues neighborhood, where Ivory Homes is seeking approval for a subdivision that would see 19 detached single-family units , each with its own planned internal secondary suites, all on a 3.2 acre parcel.

Projects like these make sense not only for adhering to single-family home aesthetics, but also because they’re cheaper per square foot than mid-rise and high-rise alternatives, the foundation claims, due due to the fact that they are “stick-timber-framed units, with lower material costs and simpler construction parameters”, making them a smart move at a time when the cost of building materials is rising in part to because of backlogs in the building materials supply chain from China, where the United States supplies 30% of its building materials.

According to the survey, 46% of respondents would accept average housing in their neighborhood; 33% of respondents oppose intermediate housing; and the others are neutral. These and other findings from the Utahns Development Preferences study offer insights for leaders grappling with today’s housing dilemma.

Even so, although the middle is the key, it is not all.

“Intermediate housing in itself is not the solution to the housing crisis. Secondary suites are not the solution. Apartments alone are not the solution. Single-family homes are not the solution. It’s all of those things – we need all of those things,” Teigen said.

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