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Rising Costs Put the Squeeze on Utah Renters

A new study shows increasing rents and relatively flat incomes put many Utah renters a single financial emergency away from eviction. (jitalia17/iStockphoto)
A new study shows increasing rents and relatively flat incomes put many Utah renters a single financial emergency away from eviction. (jitalia17/iStockphoto)
April 27, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - Rapidly rising rents and relatively flat incomes are putting the squeeze on many Utah renters, especially those with moderate or low incomes.

A new study from a University of Utah think tank says a flood of new apartment units is driving up those costs, and putting many renters just one financial emergency away from eviction.

James Wood, a senior fellow at the Gardner Policy Institute, says the jump in rental rates has been building across the state for some time.

"Renters now are paying a considerably higher share of their income for housing than for people 10 years ago," Wood says. "The median income of renters has gone up by about three percent, whereas rents have gone up just shy of 20 percent."

Wood says a strong demand for rentals has resulted in some 20,000 new apartments being built in the past five years, and "new" means they can command more rent. He says a 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom unit in a new complex now costs between $1,300 and $1,500 a month.

He says the rising rents are pushing more people into a situation known as "cost burden," where housing costs including utilities exceed 30 percent of household income.

Wood says among people with incomes from $20,000 to $35,000, the number of Utahans with cost burdens has jumped from 50 to 80 percent in the past decade. He adds women with children often fall into that category.

"They are single moms, they have a checkered job history, so they are at the mercy of the landlord," says Wood. "And they are always facing the threat of eviction if they should get laid off, or if they have a traffic accident or any sort of unforeseen event."

While rising rents are a response to higher demand, Wood believes the marketplace will eventually even out.

In the meantime, he says more affordable housing and emergency shelter initiatives, such as those in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, are much-needed across the state.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT