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Do Our Local Governments Approach Housing With too Broad of a Brush?

This morning I read a Wall Street Journal Article entitled, New Housing Crisis Looms as Fewer Renters Can Afford to Own. The author’s main point is that “Last decade’s housing crisis has given way to a new one in which many families lack the incomes or savings needed to buy homes, creating a surge of renters and a shortage of affordable housing.” Yet, the details he presents makes me wonder if we in Summit County and Park City are approaching the affordable housing issue at too high of a level, with insufficient detail.

Some of the information the author introduces includes:

  • The U.S. homeownership rate is now below where it stood 20 years ago when President Bill Clinton launched a national campaign to encourage more Americans to buy homes.
  • The declines [in home ownership] reflect a surge of new renter households, which is boosting rents. Together with tougher mortgage-qualification rules, this will leave households stuck between homes they can’t qualify to purchase and rentals they can’t afford
  • The Urban Institute researchers predict that more than 3 in 4 new households this decade, and 7 of 8 in the next, will be formed by minorities.
  • Nearly half of those households will be Hispanic—have lower incomes, less wealth and lower homeownership rates than the U.S. average.

It’s true that Park City isn’t an average location when looking at homes. Yet, as I read the article I thought back to how many times I heard the words “affordable housing” when attending Summit County Council and Park City City Council meetings. After reading this article, I began to wonder what the term even means.

When we say affordable housing, what are we referring to? Is it a $400,000 house, which takes a family income of about $100,000 to be able to afford the mortgage. Is it a $700,000 studio on Main Street? Does it mean a 900 square foot condo in Snyderville Basin that may cost $325,000? Does it mean apartments for rent with 12 month leases (that don’t really meet the seasonal worker need)? Is it something we haven’t seen yet where affordable rentals are restricted somehow to require the option of very short-term leases?

Then I wonder who they think will be using the “affordable” housing. Are they seasonal employees? Are they people who want to move out of the valley? Are they young professionals? Are they middle aged artists? Are they established families? Are they college aged kids who grew up here?

There is just so much to it that I never have contemplated. It’s like saying, “let’s solve transportation” without knowing exactly what the issues are and what’s trying to be accomplished. You lash out with a solution because it sounds good but you’ll be lucky if you hit the broad side of the barn (or the problem).

The next time I hear that we need affordable housing, without any detail provided, I’m not going to take it at face value. I want the details. I want to know exactly what demographic we are trying to serve and how we are going to serve it. Without that, all we are doing is investing time and resources in something that has little likelihood of success… just because it sounds good.

To me it is starting to sound like when people talk about growth. They’ll tell you “growth is coming.” I always wonder if that growth is 50,000 multi-millionaires or 50,000 ski bums. In this case, we likely do need affordable housing, but exactly what demographics are we expecting, and have we accounted for the changing landscape of today’s home buyer and renter.


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