His constituents don’t like what growth is doing to the character of their communities. They don’t like sprawl. They really don’t like high-density housing, the West Haven Republican said in a House Economic Development and Workforce Service Committee meeting Monday morning.
Yet, “in the next breath they’ll say, ‘Hey, we need affordable housing. And I’m caught in this quandary all the time, between a rock and a hard place.’”
There it is — a perfect description of the challenge facing many politicians along the Wasatch Front.
People have to live somewhere, and wherever they go, changes will follow. Experts estimate Utah has about 55,000 fewer housing units than all those people are demanding right now. When that happens, the price of housing goes up. It’s the kind of supply and demand problem taught in first-year economics courses.
Last year, according to the Utah Association of Realtors, a record 54,274 homes were sold in Utah. The median price of a home, meanwhile, jumped to $320,000, a 7.7% increase from the year before.
And when housing prices jump and supply lags, some people end up on the street.
Those people, unfortunately, have a hard time getting back on their feet while rents keep going higher and higher. And developers who build apartments are forced to take out construction loans so high they have to charge market-rate rents in order to make a profit.
That’s a heck of a problem for a state that has invested tens of millions in recent years to provide new shelters and a more concerted, multi-jurisdictional effort to help the homeless.
Musselman was addressing SB39, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jake Anderegg, a Republican from Lehi, a city that knows a thing or two about growth.
The bill would provide about $35 million in affordable housing incentives statewide that would, among other things, leverage money to help developers get the kind of loans that allow them to offer several housing units at prices below what the market demands.
Anderegg said 80% of evictions in Utah happen solely because the tenant no longer can afford to pay rent.
Earlier Monday, the Deseret News had published the results of an 18-month study directed by Envision Utah. It found that people in Utah County fear growth will harm their quality of life, increase traffic and crowding generally, and lead to more pollution. The county is expected to grow by 1 million more people by 2065, while the whole state grows by 3 million.
People, the survey found, are ready to maybe begin doing things differently, and that includes accepting different types of housing, mass transit and more urban centers. And yet half of those who responded to the study said they prefer living in a suburban-like community.
That’s probably not too much comfort to those who were elected to make the tough decisions today about how to plan for tomorrow.
Musselman sounded frustrated Monday morning because he wanted Anderegg to give him a conservative argument for spending millions on low-income housing incentives. Anderegg had an answer ready.
The state, its cities and counties, have spent several decades paying millions of dollars in incentives for economic development, he said. That effort has paid off. It has created jobs and brought workers here from other states. That has led to an increase in demand for housing.
“We’ve kind of been our own worst enemies,” he said.
That’s a perceptive argument conservatives often overlook. Why is it OK to allow one type of tax incentive but not another?
Anderegg noted the state has paid $69 million to revamp homeless shelters along the Wasatch Front and clean up crime around the old shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood. That does little good if homeless people can’t get back into a home.
Allocating $35 million to assist the private market in building low-income housing would be like spending an ounce of prevention to avoid 10 pounds of intervention, he said, noting it costs $80 per person to keep someone one night in a shelter.
You can pay what seems like a lot right now, or pay much more in other ways in the future.
It was an effective argument. The committee passed the bill unanimously.
Whether the money passes the full House and gets appropriated remains to be seen.
It’s certain, however, that this won’t be the last time politicians in Utah have to confront the agonizing intersection between a growing population, the needs of low-income people and voters who don’t want to see their way of life change.