The housing shortage in southern Utah continues to tighten. Can it be repaired?

For much of a decade, southwestern Utah saw its housing crisis only worsen, with high real estate prices and high rents exceeding wages and crushing class residents. workers in increasingly precarious positions.

In recent months, rising interest rates and inflation have reduced the number of home sales, making it even more difficult for first-time buyers and low-income residents to consider home ownership.

And for local employers, including public employers like the City of St. George and the Washington County School District, the high cost of housing has made it difficult to attract teachers, police officers and other key workers. .

“That’s probably the hardest part of moving here,” said Kolby Nelson, 24, a recent mover from Ogden who said he was living in a basement apartment in St. George while he was looking for more permanent accommodation elsewhere.

Like many people looking to move to the area or hoping to find a better location, Nelson spends part of his days visiting Facebook pages and other social media sites where host seekers go to find a job. housing, including several groups that have amassed thousands of members.

“It’s really competitive,” Nelson said. “If you’re trying to rent, not really in the market to buy, there just aren’t many options.”

An aerial view of the Sun River Golf Course and housing community built along the Virgin River at the south end of St. George, Utah.

Regardless of what happens with national interest rates and the broader housing market, Southwest Utah expects to feel the pressure on housing for the foreseeable future. One of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States — it ranked fastest in the latest US Census Bureau rankings — housing demand has long outstripped supply. Still popular with retirees, St. George has also become a hotbed for real estate investors, with large-scale resort properties and short-term rentals having taken up a greater proportion of housing supply in recent years.

In the most recent affordable housing plan Released by Washington County, planners say the area would need to build nearly 900 new affordable housing units each year through 2030 to meet projected demand — about four times more than has been built in recent years.

Southern Utah Housing Coalition exhibit

St. George is far from the only part of the United States facing major housing issues, but its rapid growth and unusual demographics present unique challenges.

The way forward will likely require new ways of thinking and new ideas about the role local governments can play, according to organizers of a new housing forum and expo planned for Thursday by the Southern Utah Housing Action Coalition. .

After:Overpriced and underdeveloped: How St. George’s real estate market is crowding out residents

The event, dubbed “Addressing the challenge of accessible housing: the power of multi-sectoral solutions for our community”, is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Dixie Convention Center and is expected to include a long list of local politicians, government administrators and other decision makers.

The event will include findings from a new study on “housing characters” that aims to explain what kinds of people need housing in Washington County, as well as two panels from local experts on the history of the local housing market and the ways in which it could close the deficit of affordable housing that has grown in recent years.

Freshly prepared housing lots have recently been installed in North St. George near Winchester Hills.

“They will offer innovative, sometimes revolutionary but common sense solutions to the housing problem, such as resource sharing frameworks, a shared ownership model and collaborative partnerships,” according to a press release issued ahead of the event. .

Scheduled presenters and panelists include Shirlayne Quayle, Director of Economic Vitality and Housing at the City of St. George; Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson; Rick Atkin, Head of Research at Atwood Innovation Plaza; and Carol Hollowell, executive director of the Switchpoint Community Resource Center. More information about the event is available at www.eventbrite.com/e/hac-forum-expo-meeting-the-attainable-housing-challenge-tickets-427003738677

Organizers say the event will outline ways local communities, including municipalities, school districts, homebuilders and others, can work together to develop better opportunities for affordable housing projects in the area.

Price up

People walk through the Desert House in Kayenta during the annual House Parade on Saturday, February 19, 2022.

Presenters will have their work cut out for them.

In the latest market report on the multifamily housing report released by NAI Excel, a major commercial real estate company in the St. George area, rents had reached a median asking price of $ 160 per square foot midway through 2022, rising 12.5% ​​year-on-year and having almost doubled over the last five years. The typical two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment cost upwards of $1,200 per month.

And despite the decline in home sales in recent months, the price of buying a home was still too high for many workers, with a median price of $519,500 for Washington County in September, up 24% year-on-year, according to a market study published by ERA Brokers Consolidated. This number had also nearly doubled in the past five years.

At the same time, the number of homes sold had fallen sharply in recent months as potential buyers spooked by rising interest rates and wider worries about the domestic economy.

The Federal Reserve was expected to announce another benchmark interest rate hike on Wednesday, a move that analysts said could help curb inflation but would likely have a direct impact on consumers’ wallets, making it more costly to obtaining a mortgage, paying off credit card debt and keeping up with other interest payments.

The Fed has heard calls from US lawmakers and even United Nations officials to halt rate hikes, arguing that higher rates could trigger a painful recession. But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has pledged to bring inflation closer to his 2% target, even if that means job losses.

The US labor market remained strong, with many job openings and a low unemployment rate. Through September, Utah’s unemployment rate was just 2.5% and the state had increased its total number of jobs by 2.5% in the previous 12 months, according to the Department of Statistics. Utah Workforce Services.

David DeMille writes about southwestern Utah for The Spectrum & Daily News, a USA TODAY Network newsroom based in St. George. Follow him on @SpectrumDeMille or contact him at [email protected]. To support and perpetuate this work, thank you subscribe today.

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