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Utah Home Builders Struggle To Keep Up With Growth

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Home builders say multi-family dwellings are in high demand due to the shortage of affordable housing in the Valley.

In 2016, Salt Lake area builders completed close to 3,600 new units along the Wasatch Front, a number far short of what the Salt Lake Home Builders Association say the market could’ve sustained.


Local builders say a perfect storm of land scarcity, lending restrictions and labor shortages are all contributing to the Salt Lake Valley’s housing shortage.

Jaren Davis, executive director of the local home builders association, says that's why he convened a panel of builders, planners and elected officials to address the housing crunch on Thursday in West Jordan.

“We glory in the economic growth and development that’s coming, but we're unable to keep up with the supply,” he says. “The demand is so incredible, that the prices are skyrocketing, and as that happens, we can’t afford the homes anymore.”

Tyler McArthur, a builder with Vesta Homes who attended Thursday's forum, says the skilled labor shortage has been especially hard on his business.

“I know several of my own subcontractors that have left Utah go back to Mexico, and they haven’t come back yet. So we’re paying more for all of our costs," he says. "What’s unfortunate is that it’s not just the builder that’s paying that price, but eventually it’s passed onto the consumer.”

Credit Julia Ritchey, KUER
Mayor Tom Dolan of Sandy talks about the housing shortage during a panel organized by the Salt Lake Home Builders Association on March 16.

Mayors from Midvale, Riverton, Sandy and Draper all voiced frustration with public opposition to higher density developments in their towns, which they say is key to providing more affordable housing.

Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini says cities have to do a better job of educating the public on the benefits of more multi-family housing.

“You think the roads are crowded now? You think homes are hard to find now? You think the homeless problem has been solved? No,” she says. “This is only going to get worse — unless we provide a variety of housing options for people.”

Seghini says that includes more apartments, condos and townhomes that fit the needs of people in every stage of their life. She says progress is being made, but worries it may be too slow to keep up with current population growth.  

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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