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In the search to solve Utah’s high housing costs, rent control is ‘not on the table’

A for rent sign seen in a Salt Lake City neighborhood, March 23, 2022.
Brian Albers
A for rent sign seen in a Salt Lake City neighborhood, March 23, 2022.

Gov. Spencer Cox joined the national Bipartisan Policy Center Tuesday to discuss how Utah is approaching its housing affordability problem.

A recent analysis of housing markets across the country shows Salt Lake City has seen the third-highest increase in rent over the past three years at nearly 25%. Costs for homebuyers have also skyrocketed.

Cox reiterated what Utah leaders have said for years: If the state increases its supply of housing, it will help address demand and, in turn, drive down costs. That’s still their north star.

“There is no other way to make this happen, other than we need more housing,” Cox said.

So, where does that leave other ideas, like rent control? State law prohibits cities from enacting those policies.

“Rent control is not on the table,” the governor said. “We've certainly seen rent control tried in different municipalities across the country. And I would argue that it has not been effective at all anywhere that it's been tried.”

Some housing experts say the impacts of rent stabilization aren’t as black and white as Cox makes them out to be.

Alessandro Rigolon, a city and metropolitan planning professor at the University of Utah, said there is some evidence that these types of policies have kept some renters in their apartments and homes. But he thinks housing advocates should put their energy toward “more attainable policy changes.”

“Yes, it could help low-income renters, but unless there is a major change in our political landscape, we won’t see it,” Rigolon said.

Francisca Blanc, assistant executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition, said as far as the state’s response goes, there was a huge missed opportunity when the Legislature didn’t fully fund the governor’s request for affordable housing this year.

The budget called for $228 million to help build affordable units. The Legislature approved $55 million.

“We want the legislative leadership and the governor to have a very strong and open relationship and work together,” Blanc said. “We have to think about helping our community. It's not just about giving a handout. It's about taking care of your people.”

Cox said the state is also working with local municipalities on policies that allow for more housing options.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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