Beating Salt Lake City’s rent crisis

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) Salt Lake City is in the middle of a rent crisis. The economy is booming, job growth is huge and more people want to move into the city to be near where they work.

DOWNSIDE: RENTS ARE SKYROCKETING

The downside of all this: there’s a shortage of rental units available and developers are getting top dollar at their projects. That’s why you see all the new apartment complexes rising around downtown, especially near TRAX lines.

"The market is robust," says Dan Lofgren, one of the managing members of Cowboy Partners which has developed several of the new projects around town and has more in the construction stage like Liberty Boulevard on 700 East near Trolley Square.

"There’s extraordinary demand," says Lofgren. "That puts upward pressure on rent."

Apartmentlist.com reports Salt Lake rental rates have increased 6.2% in the past year and The CBRE Group estimates the average monthly rental at $1,100.

ABC4 found rents as low as $600 a month and as high as $6,500 a month for a 1,300 square foot apartment. No matter what the rent, they all seem to be taken.

Salt Lake City’s Housing Director estimates the vacancy rate at about 2%, which means an apartment is hard to find at any price.

The problem, says Melissa Jensen, "because there’s not enough housing and everybody wants to live here. Those who make the least amount of money can never afford to live here. And they’re paying a majority of their income for their housing."

That means people working in the service industry who keep the city running and vibrant are forced to find cheaper housing elsewhere. Many of them struggling to survive on near minimum wages.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

There is an answer to the problem, but it is slow in coming. Affordable housing.

Example: Scott Schear makes $23,000 a year as a custodian at the Marriott Library. He is living in a brand new one bedroom apartment at 600 Lofts, the corner of State St. and 500 South in the heart of downtown. Market rate for his unit would be $1,200 a month, but he pays only $795.

"I’m thrilled," says Scott. "I spent 4 months looking to find a place that was affordable and wasn’t a dump. I found a nice place and I plan on being here for a while."

Another example: David Sarle makes $20,000 a year as a medical rehab masseuse. He lives in a brand new apartment in the Liberty Village complex in the heart of Sugar House. (A Cowboy Partner project.) Going rate again would be about $1,200 a month. Under affordable housing he pays only $633.

"I really love it." David says "it’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived."

HOW YOU QUALIFY FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

There’s a relatively complicated formula to figure out if you qualify for programs like David and Scott. On average a family of four would qualify if they make $45,000 a year or less. A single person qualifies if the yearly income is $31,000 or less.

Housing Director Jensen says that covers a huge group of people who have jobs in Salt Lake. "Extremely hard working people. Sometimes they’re working two or three jobs. That might be working in a day care. It could be a technician. The people who take care of blood when you go to a doctor’s office."

The problem is there’s a massive shortage of affordable housing. Developers like Lofgren can decide to set aside 20% of their project for affordable housing. The Liberty Village complex has 171 units. 35 are for affordable housing.

Cowboy Partners is also designating 20% of their 266 units they are building at Liberty Boulevard on 700 East as affordable.

Managing member Dan Lofgren says it makes good business sense to do this, but he also claims there’s a personal reward. "There are enough examples of how lives have been changed to fuel a career’s worth of committment to doing affordable housing." He also says, with a twinkle or maybe a tear in his eyes, "you only have to talk to a couple of those residents and you go ‘ooh’ I want to do that. That’s very cool."

AFFORDABLE HOUSING NOT WHAT YOU THINK

When some people hear the words affordable housing, they conjure up images of homeless people on Rio Grande moving into a slum like dwelling. Melissa Jensen says that is far from the truth. The people who live in affordable housing are "folks that you come in contact with every day. They are great members of the community."

She also says the rewards are huge for people who don’t have to worry about paying their rent every month to live in a nice place. "They’re going to spend more time with their kids at school. They’re going to spend more time in their community and you know what else they’re going to do? They’re going to spend more money in their local economy."

Lofgren of Cowboy Partners is especially proud of the fact that his project allows every day workers to stay in the highly sought after Sugar House area. "The school teachers, firefighters, police officers can afford to live here, where they work. We think that’s a really good thing.

For Scott Schear at the 600 Lofts. "It’s been a long road getting to where I finally settled in a place where I can imagine myself staying for a chunk of time."

For David Sarle at Liberty Village. "I’m somebody. I’m something. I can achieve something. I’m not working my whole life, killing myself, for nothing."

WHAT TO DO TO GET IN

Persistence and patience may be the two most important words to get into affordable housing. There are long waiting lists because there are more people than units.

You may need to contact the phone number of each complex where you might want to live. Ask them if they have affordable units and then put your name on a waiting list.

Another good contact is the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. You can call them at (801) 487-2161. Or check out their website at www.haslcutah.org/

Or the Housing Authority of Salt Lake County. (801) 284-4400. Or on the internet at https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/

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