Melissa Graft, a single mother of five children and a resident in Utah’s Wasatch Front, was forced to make a difficult decision and move back in with her parents after she became effectively priced out of the housing market. Melissa’s story is, unfortunately, not an anomaly but a brutal reality for many Utahns. Everyone from college students to young families to upper-middle class individuals are struggling to find affordable housing in the state.
From 2020 to 2021, the median home price in Utah increased by 24.6 percent. In addition to this statewide increase, three Utah cities—Provo, Ogden, and Salt Lake—wound up listed among the top 10 most overpriced housing markets.
Maybe the most clearly present reason for skyrocketing prices is a large increase in demand. Utah has had rapid population and job growth in recent years. While such growth is normally positive and an indicator of a thriving economy, the growth Utah is experiencing is putting a strain on housing availability by increasing competition for available housing and decreasing the supply of available homes. This strain is illustrated in an analysis by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, which depicts Utah as having a housing deficit of 45,000 units.
It’s not just home buyers that are being impacted. Renters are also feeling the consequences of a red hot housing market. In particular, low-income households are being negatively impacted by Utah’s housing market. In 2019, approximately 63.1 percent of renters were unable to afford a median home price. In 2020, the share of renters priced out increased to 72.8 percent. Additionally, according to data from the Utah Workforce Services, more than 183,000 low-income Utah households pay more than half of their income for rent.
One of the best ways to quickly and affordably remedy Utah’s housing deficit might come from the deregulation of manufactured housing. Manufactured housing offers affordable and stable shelter for all types of families.
Unfortunately, cities have consistently placed stringent regulations on manufactured housing in order to relegate this form of housing to only a means of dividing wealthy areas from industrial and commercial areas. The consequence of this is that manufactured housing rarely covers significant swaths of a municipality’s developable area and covers even a smaller proportion of desirable land.
Overzealous local government regulation also ranges from arbitrary parking requirements to even more innocuous and harmful lot size restrictions. These regulations must be undone as they often grant zoning the ability to keep the less affluent out of locations with the best access to jobs or the highest quality schools.
In addition to harsh regulatory rules, manufactured housing must overcome commonly held misconceptions before it will be widely adopted. The aforementioned stigma refers to one in which individuals view areas with manufactured housing as dirty, ugly, and crime-riddled. This is a misguided notion. Today, manufactured houses are nearly indiscernible from traditional homes. Manufactured homes are also frequently located within your prototypical neighborhoods. There may even be one in your own neighborhood, and you just haven’t realized it yet.
To help reduce the housing crunch that Utah is experiencing, various localities must pursue policies that liberalize and deregulate the development of manufactured housing. This affordable housing archetype can immediately increase the available supply of lower-priced housing as the average manufactured home price is just above $57,000, and it only takes a few days to create these homes. This is while an average single-family home in Utah costs $580,000 and can take over six months to build.