Property Rights

Utah needs more affordable housing, less zoning

As Utah attracts business development and growth in booming areas such as the ever-growing tech industry within Silicon Slopes, the housing market has drastically fallen behind, leaving many individuals wondering if Utah is ready for this kind of growth. The state has an affordable housing crisis, with fewer options within financial reach for low income individuals. Most Utahns are paying over 30 percent of their monthly income to afford their housing—and that’s for those who can even find a place to live. In some areas, such as Salt Lake City, a 69.5% decrease in housing inventory occurred in just five years.

Affordable housing is a growing crisis not only in Utah but all over the country. One of the main contributing factors towards this dilemma is zoning and land use regulation. These restrictions are the result of government’s attempts to create a safer, more environmentally friendly, and sometimes better-looking area of town. But as is frequently the case with government’s good intentions, the consequences turn out to be negative.

The Cato Institute recently published a policy analysis showing that “states that have increased the amount of rules and restrictions on land use the most have higher housing prices.” The research suggests a strong correlation between a large amount of property regulations and a decline in supply, affordability, and growth in the housing market.  

The Cato analysis also ranks each state on its land use regulations, and Utah is 21st on the list for having the most restrictive land use regulations. For zoning regulations, Utah ranks 31st.

These numbers are not too surprising considering the plethora of restrictions imposed upon property owners by city governments in Utah. In a recent example that would directly benefit alleviate the affordable housing problem, most cities prohibit individuals from living in their own tiny homes due to zoning and land use regulations.

The solution in Utah is to reverse government encroachment and allow for increased individual freedom of property use with a constitutional amendment. Utah’s constitution already protects the right to “acquire, possess, and protect property,” but not to use it, which should be added to the list of protections. Otherwise, city governments will continue to impose any regulation they desire with the deference and protection of the courts.

Property rights are fundamental individual rights for the government to protect—not control. Intrusive policies such as zoning laws and land use regulations have gone too far in Utah, forcing housing prices up, and keeping low income people out. Individuals should have the right to peacefully use their own property as they see fit, without unnecessary government restrictions.

If Utah wants a solution for the affordable housing crisis, we must overhaul onerous land use regulations and allow individuals to use their own property as they desire.