Salt Lake is booming, but not for everyone

Rendering of the Granary Place Apartments. Construction is underway on the Granary Apartments in the Central Ninth neighborhood. The project will add 134 affordable units to the market. Image courtesy JF Capital.

In many ways, it feels like the best of times in Salt Lake City; the metro had the second largest job growth in 2016 among metros with at least 1 million people and the city is experiencing unprecedented residential growth as more and more residents pursue city living.

But for many residents, Salt Lake’s boom isn’t carrying over to them with rents climbing even as the number of units in the city increases.

“You may not believe me when I say that our city needs more housing especially when you see the number of cranes in our skyline,” said Michael Akerlow, the deputy director of the Department of Community and Neighborhoods.  “(But) providing a greater variety of housing types in all neighborhoods will alleviate some of the pressure we are experiencing with 2 percent vacancy rates and rental rates at all-time highs.”

On Thursday Akerlow joined Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other community leaders to present the Growing SLC, a new five-year housing plan created to address affordable housing.

According to Akerlow, the purpose of the new housing plan is to identify new funding sources to maintain and create more affordable housing, alter zoning requirements to allow for a greater variety of housing types and work with partners to create a rental assist program and incentive landlords to rent to low-income residents.

The city touts the Growing SLC plan as the first housing plan in 16 years, but the plan is preceded by the 5,000 Doors housing initiative launched by then-Mayor Ralph Becker in 2015 that sought to add 5,000 affordable housing units to the city by 2019.  Under the Growing SLC plan, the housing plan would be updated every five years and unlike the 5,000 Doors initiative, there wouldn’t be quantitative goals to track the city’s progress.

“There is no silver bullet to solving our housing crisis,” said Akerlow.

The plan identifies three goals; increase housing options throughout the city with updated zoning and land use requirements, increase housing opportunities and stable housing for low-income residents by prioritizing development of new affordable housing units and create more opportunities for home ownership, and “build a more equitable city” through creating more areas of opportunity and discouraging housing discrimination.

Affordable housing has also been a top priority for the Salt Lake City Council this year.  In October city council members, acting as the board of directors for the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake, reallocated $21.6 million in RDA funds to go toward creating more affordable housing.  Council members defended the reallocation of RDA funds as a necessity in response to a perceived lack of progress from the Mayor’s office in addressing the city’s gap in affordable housing.

But both sides agree that there is a need for affordable housing in the city.  City officials estimate that the city currently lacks 7,500 affordable housing units to effectively meet the current demand.

Building Salt Lake’s data shows that there are 7,250 residential units in development in the city with close to 4,500 multifamily units under construction.  Salt Lake City accounts for over half of the multifamily units under construction along the Wasatch Front.

Salt Lake City is not only leading in multifamily growth regionally and statewide but nationally as well.  According to John Ricco writing for the Greater Greater Washington blog, current Salt Lake growth outpaces many cities nationally in multifamily units permitted per 1,000 residents.  Ricco notes that among 26 peer cities, Salt Lake ranks just behind Atlanta with over 16 units permitted per 1,000 residents.

Salt Lake’s current growth in multifamily units per capita is more than double the rate in cities that have led the past decade in growth like Portland Ore., Boston, Washington D.C., San Fransisco and Minneapolis.  Salt Lake’s current growth rate in multifamily units even outpaces fast growing cities like Denver, Austin Texas and Nashville Tenn.

Despite hundreds of new multifamily units, rents in Salt Lake City continue to climb.  According to Apartment List, an online real-estate marketplace, rents in Salt Lake were up 1.5 percent last month compared to January 2016 with a median rent of $990 for a two bedroom apartment.  Yet, in many cities rents nationally are stabilizing or lowering.  San Fransico, Houston and Miami saw rents drop during the same time period.

To meet the current estimated demand for affordable housing, the city needs to add as many affordable units as what is currently in development.  Of the 4,500 units under construction in the city, Building Salt Lake estimates that there are just over 600 affordable units under construction right now, 475 of which are in developments that are exclusively income restricted with the remaining units part of mixed-income developments.

The city has put the Growing SLC five-year plan on Open City Hall to gather public feedback.

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Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at