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Here’s How You Can Help Solve Southern Utah’s Housing Crisis

Adam Lenhard, City Manager of St. George
Housing is a regional issue. It concerns us all. It is not something that St. George alone can solve.

Tai Christensen, head of diversity at CBC Mortgage, owned by Utah Paiute, said she understands why residents don’t want to see high density housing in their neighborhoods.

“But unfortunately, we are experiencing a housing shortage and low inventory like we haven’t seen in almost 100 years,” she said. “And so we need to open ourselves and our communities to affordable housing solutions. And affordable housing solutions mean mass housing… And while that may not be visually appealing, it does offer people the opportunity to live in good quality neighborhoods and afford to pay where they are. they live.

With Utah’s ever-growing population, in part due to tourism, employment opportunities and large families, more affordable housing is needed if families are to stay close to each other, said Dejan Eskic, researcher. principal at the Gardner Institute at the University of Utah. .

“I think we are all NIMBYs [Not In My Backyard]. I think we just have to make it happen and change is difficult, ”Eskic said.

Even though locals feel there is a way to avoid the growth, some say it is inevitable.

“We have to recognize that communities are going to be built somewhere, right? Olga Hernandez-Favela, Racial and Economic Disparities Coordinator for the Utah Housing Coalition. “We’re talking about community members, we’re talking about neighbors, we’re talking about people who could potentially help our economy.”

Problems and Solutions: How You Can Help With Southern Utah’s Housing Crisis

Chris Caldwell, K. Sophie Will and Sean Hemmersmeier, St. George Spectrum & Daily News

“I know the market will adapt”

For those who feared this economy could be another real estate bubble and lead to a recession like the one in 2008, experts say it’s quite the opposite.

“What the financial crash of the mid-2000s did, COVID did the opposite – it sped up house prices,” said Dejan Eskic, senior researcher at the Gardner Institute at the University of Utah. “So it’s a horrible housing market. You could say it’s as bad as last time. But on the flip side, because it’s so unaffordable.

However, there is still residue from 2008 on this issue.

“I think there is probably still resentment from the latest housing boom and collapse where cities need to protect themselves,” Eskic said. “I think it’s the public sector and the private sector that communicate more.

He believes the state and the country are entering an economic recovery phase, and economists in the Utah Department of Workforce Services know the market will adjust.

“I know the market will adjust, what I don’t know is when it will adjust and what the adjustment will look like,” said regional economist Lecia Langston. “We can see that we cannot continue as we are right now. There has to be some kind of market adjustment.

Langston posed the question to everyone with “how do we get through the short term until the economy takes care of itself in the long term?”

In the Springdale tourism hub, former Springdale City Associate Planner Sophie Frankenburg said tourism won’t slow down, it’s just a matter of where to place people now.

“I think right now the immediate response should be to look for housing outside of exclusive single-family homes,” she said.

The proposed solutions to the Springdale housing crisis.
City of Springdale / Zions Public Finance, Inc.

Springdale’s Strategic Housing Plan offers many solutions, including a community land trust, increasing the number of secondary suites, rezoning, transferable development rights, public infrastructure neighborhoods, tax credit for low income rents and a loan fund for low income projects, all of which are in effect around the state and neighboring Colorado.

When it comes to the environment around Springdale and southern Utah, the biggest concern right now is water.

With 2.5 million or more people expected to become Utahns by 2050, the state needs more water to support everyone.

“With careful planning and stewardship, the people of Utah can have enough water to support agriculture, wildlife and recreation while providing enough water to meet the needs of growing communities,” said advocacy group Your Utah Your Future said on its website.

Who is responsible?

Some believe it is the cities and counties that have the power to help solve the housing crisis, such as Don Willie, president and CEO of the St. George’s Area Chamber of Commerce.

“But the municipalities are the ones that really have to own it. And, you know, they have to have a policy, ”Willie said. “It’s a community effort, we look to examples outside of our region of how this is being managed, so we would like municipalities to do more to lead this conversation. “

The Gardner Institute agrees, with a report last November saying, “The best chance of reducing shortages and improving affordability depends on local policies and practices.

Some local leaders are all ready to discuss high density, such as St. George City Councilor Dannielle Larkin.

Danielle Larkin, St. George City Councilor
High density belongs to our community and we desperately need it. Who is moving into this accessible accommodation? Your children, your parents, your great aunt and your uncle.

“High density belongs to our community and we desperately need it,” she said. “Who is moving into this accessible accommodation? Your children, your parents, your great aunt and your uncle.

Washington County Commissioner Almquist said the housing crisis was “constantly” on the agenda and had considered using low interest rates to borrow money and build more homes, but decided not to.

Almquist said he has seen affordable housing work in major cities and the county can harness their techniques.

“There are two things: great design and great management,” he said. “So if we can bring these two together, then even some communities will tolerate and neighbors can tolerate a denser, properly designed and managed area for those who simply cannot afford it.”

Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist comments during an emergency session to declare a local <a class=state of emergency on March 20, 2020.” height=”3744″/>
Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist comments during an emergency session to declare a local state of emergency on March 20, 2020.
Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News

Governor Spencer Cox told The Spectrum that the housing crisis is also an issue close to his heart.

“We are doing everything we can, there is not much the state can do,” he said.

But some residents might think the government is doing too much, said City Manager Lenhard.

“And it’s a tricky place because we are balancing the quality of life and the pace of growth as we try to meet the demand,” he said.

Companies are doing everything they can to balance a good salary with a profit, Langston and Willie said.

To help minorities receive fair housing, every member of the community needs to have difficult conversations about the racist past and help communicate resources in the future, said Hernandez-Favela of the Utah Housing Coalition.

Olga Hernandez-Favela, Racial and Economic Disparities Coordinator for the Utah Housing Coalition
We need to have really honest and vulnerable conversations about racism, and we need to figure out how to make room at the table.

“So to move forward, I think we have to hold ourselves accountable for what has happened, which means we have to have really honest and vulnerable conversations about racism, and we have to figure out how to do it. the place at the table, ”she said. .

A June report from the Utah Department of Multicultural Affairs said targeted education and resources for the Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) community are essential to equality.

“More initiatives are needed to encourage tenancy to members of BIPOC communities, such as grants or tax breaks,” he said, also calling on the state legislature to review potentially eviction laws discriminatory.

“It’s hard to see such a huge problem,” Barben said. “And everyone’s waiting for the next person to take the lead and go do something, you know, let’s make a difference here. But it only takes one person at a time. And if we can rally everyone, I think we have a bright future. “

And in the end, that’s pretty much how every Southern Utahn treats their neighbors.

“It’s about helping your neighbor. It’s about recognizing the humanity of the person, ”said Hernandez-Favela. “I think it’s a very good starting point.

To explore the extent of this crisis, The Spectrum produced a seven-part series on the housing crisis in St. George and southern Utah.

From more information on the city’s reports to zoning to minority issues to tourism management to struggles for students and the elderly and solutions to this problem, we’ve got it all covered.

Sean Hemmersmeier contributed reporting for this article.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News for the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email him at [email protected] Donate to Report for America to support their work here.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion