Utah’s housing costs are skyrocketing. And according to a recent report from the University of Utah, this increase is unlikely to subside in the next few years.
Housing stability is becoming increasingly unattainable for working people across the country, and Utahns have been hit particularly hard. The University of Utah report, “The State of the State’s Housing Market,” found that housing affordability decreased across every income bracket between 2015-2019, and that in the past year alone, Utah saw a 10 percent increase in the average rental rate and a 30.6 percent increase in the median sale price of a single-family home.
As of June 2021, 40 percent of Utah renters were identified as “cost-burdened” — paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent — and 20 percent of Utah renters were “severely cost-burdened” — paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent.
Utah’s population grew by 18 percent in the past decade — the largest increase of any state in the country. While wages have severely lagged behind rising costs of living all across the nation, Utah’s record population growth has seriously outpaced the housing supply, making housing costs in the state even more extreme in the last few years. During the current pandemic and economic crisis, things have not gotten better.
In fact, in order to avoid a severe recession, the housing capitalists and the Federal Reserve actually made housing more unattainable during the pandemic! The University of Utah researchers point out that the Federal Reserve “pumped an extraordinary level of liquidity into capital markets, which in turn lowered interest rates and produced a housing boom with the largest single-year price increase in housing history.” In Utah, this meant that the percentage of renters who could not afford the median-priced home rose from 63.1 percent in 2019 to 72.8 percent in 2020.
While the Federal Reserve once again demonstrated its explicit loyalty to the ruling class, who increased their wealth by billions — or even trillions — during 2020, the working class was left unprotected from a deadly disease, lost jobs and income, accumulated crippling medical debt, and now working people face 11 million evictions as the federal moratorium on evictions was allowed to expire by unelected Supreme Court judges.
Even the Emergency Rental Assistance approved by Congress has been grossly misused and under-distributed. In fact, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which has been tracking the disbursement of funds, noted that only about $8.5 billion of the total $46.5 billion allotted has been distributed. They note primary barriers to disbursement as being unnecessary application obstacles and red tape by state governments as well as poor participation by landlords. In Utah, journalists recently discovered that Utah has been completely misusing these relief funds by paying landlords’ eviction-related legal bills to help them evict tenants, rather than giving relief funds to tenants.
The University of Utah report notes that historically, housing prices are only forced down when huge masses of workers are unemployed and unable to afford their rents or mortgages. Of course, this type of crisis also leads to further monopolization and privatization of the housing market by real-estate billionaires.
An economic system that only sees reduced housing costs alongside a major unemployment crisis is inhumane and unacceptable. Housing activists across the country, including in Utah, are mobilizing to demand that the government cancel the rents and ensure affordable housing for all.
On Sept. 26, PSL Salt Lake organized a housing rally where activists talked about solutions to the housing crisis and offered assistance to community members in need of applying for the state’s rent relief funds. One speaker, Dodge Hovermale, emphasized that “the only way we will win COVID aid, canceled rents, an enduring eviction moratorium, and affordable housing, is by organizing as a class — by fighting back ourselves!”
The newly opened Salt Lake Liberation Center is continuing the struggle for housing by organizing tenants in the area to expose housing injustices and fight back against evictions. “We have been organizing door-to-door outreach in Salt Lake neighborhoods. We are telling renters that the state has $135 million of emergency rent relief designated for them. The form only takes 20 minutes to fill out, but so far, we haven’t met a single renter who knew this money was available,” explained Salt Lake Liberation Center organizer Denise Weaver. “There are hundreds of thousands of renters in Utah at risk of eviction, but the state is not making any genuine efforts to stop this. The only way we can secure our housing rights is by organizing together.”