Property Rights

Cedar City’s First Step Toward Affordable Housing

Ryan Vance is a Policy Research intern with the Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank in Utah. He is currently working on a Master’s degree in Political Psychology through Arizona State University.

Utah’s housing market has not let up. Prices remain extremely high. In fact, over the course of the past year, house prices have increased, on average, by over $100,000. And the renting business, while not quite as egregious, has been suffering from price increases as well. 

The pattern of these events have been particularly hard on those less fortunate. The rising costs have caused those in the lower income bracket to lose 50 percent of their paychecks to housing, making payments that were once bearable an overly stressful burden.

This has made life quite difficult for people like Anna, a hard-working single mother who now needs to rely upon the charity of others (in this case, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) in order to make sure her child is able to eat more than just rice.

The negative effects of this housing crisis are not helped by the fact that many cities in Utah engage in minimum lot requirements. This municipal practice effectively dictates the size of property that can be created on a zone-wide basis. 

While innocent in concept, the implementation of this practice, especially when the minimum lot and property requirements are larger in square footage, creates a price barrier for anyone wishing to live in a particular zone or even city.  

This inordinately hurts people within lower income brackets, whose paychecks may not be able to meet the requisites of buying or renting a property that’s the dictated minimum size.  

Furthermore, a study compilation conducted by George Mason University revealed minimum lot requirements to be an important factor in overall house costs skyrocketing. Essentially, they found that when governments dictate housing prices through lot size instead of leaving it to the market, it creates inflated housing costs due to restricted supply. 

Cedar City has acknowledged these problems and has taken a positive step in reforming its zoning laws to accommodate lower income brackets. They did this by creating a new zone where the lots are allowed to be more compact than the rest of the city’s minimum lot requirements. 

The Cedar City Council implemented this reform with the hope that working-class families would be able to find affordable housing in Cedar City and the eventual vision that college students (as well as other members of the lower income bracket) will be able to call Cedar City their home.

While circumstances surrounding the housing market are difficult for many, it’s heartening to see places like Cedar City rise to the challenge and take the initiative to create the means for more affordable housing.

Cedar City’s reform is a brilliant example to surrounding cities. Hopefully, other municipalities can follow suit with this legislative pattern and help implement more affordable housing throughout Utah.