Trent Staggs: Cities must take the lead on improving housing supply and costs

February 2, 2021

Utah faces a looming housing crisis. We see more new families formed each year than homes built to house them, creating the current housing gap of 50,000 more family units than home units in the state of Utah.


The Kem C. Gardner Institute indicates that the average home price in Utah will be $730,000 in just 24 years if we maintain our current trajectory. Simply put, we need to build more houses to increase supply while also reducing onerous regulations to stop prices from spiraling out of control. It is up to those who regulate the bulk of our housing market, the cities and counties, to address this issue head on.


Imagine being newlyweds looking to find a home to raise a family in. You did well in school, landed a great job with strong earning potential and you are starting at an entry-level salary. Yet, you cannot even buy a starter home in Utah with a 30-year mortgage because the prices are sky high. This is not a future that we want to leave to our children.


There is much consensus on what the issue is and what has caused it. Home prices are dramatically inflating not only due to a lack of available supply in the housing stock, but also a regulatory framework that often adds thousands of dollars to each home. However, we seem to have stalled in taking the necessary action needed to reduce and reform the regulations that restrict the housing supply and make building homes more expensive.


If we take affordable housing seriously, then mayors, city council members and municipal staff must review their zoning codes with a fresh set of eyes. Let us look for opportunities to degregulate, allow for a greater diversity of housing options, material and architectural standards, and perhaps the lowest hanging fruit — allowing for accessory dwelling units.


To again quote the Kem C. Gardner Institute, “These regulations, more than any other local policies, govern the annual supply of single-family and multifamily housing.”

Beyond this much needed review of municipal codes, local leaders must involve their residents and the development community alike in land use decisions, making everyone a partner in the fight for improving housing supply and costs.


We are much less divided than we often believe. Through an empowering and inclusive community discussion we can achieve much in building more housing units while assuaging the often legitimate concerns of residents who already live there. City leaders must also work hand in hand with their residents to craft solutions that are palatable yet also move the society forward. This is the art of leadership.


This is the task that has fallen to local leaders across our state. We often say the closer leaders are to the people, the more responsive and representative of the people they will be. Now is the time to exercise that principle. So too, is Ronald Reagan’s statement that “The government which governs best is the government which governs least.” I urge my fellow local leaders to remember this principle when it comes to housing regulation and take bold action to solve this pressing problem.