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WEST VALLEY CITY — Utah's increasingly diversified population is creating some challenges for those searching for affordable housing options. That fact, coupled with current economic difficulties, is changing the housing landscape across the Beehive State, according to a local analyst.
"People have less capacity to afford big houses on large lots (which is typical in Utah)," said Pam Perlich, senior research economist for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah. "The demand for that kind of housing is going to (decrease) and the demand for more affordable housing goes up."
Speaking Tuesday at the Utah Housing Coalition's annual Utah Housing Matters Conference at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, Perlich said that since 1990, Utah has seen its minority population grow from 9 percent to nearly 20 percent in 2010. While still far below the national minority population rate of 36 percent, that growth is impacting numerous economic sectors — particularly housing.
Our demographics are changing (and) we're going to have more people than ever before. We're going to have to start building up instead of out.
–- January Afton
She said that as the minority population climbs, cities and towns will have to figure out how to provide affordable, accessible housing to the growing number of ethnically and culturally diverse families coming into the state.
"Do we meet (the demand) or do people just de facto end up living two and three households to one single-family (dwelling)," Perlich queried. That is what families would be left with in the absence of an adequate housing plan that has multi-family units as a major component, she added.
Recently released data indicated that the overall mid- year apartment vacancy rate in Salt Lake County was 5.2 percent, a slight decrease from 2010 when the rate was at 5.7 percent. The drop in vacancy rates was a result of rising demand for rental units due to the increasing number of households unable to qualify for homeownership, the report stated.
Kip Paul, director of investment sales for Commerce Real Estate Solutions, said trends indicate that the local rental market would likely see vacancies fall below the 5 percent benchmark sometime in 2012 — creating an even bigger challenge for prospective renters.
"Our entire demographic is changing in the state and all over the country," said Afton January, foreclosure and event coordinator for the Utah Housing Coalition. The increased diversity has also brought new customs that may seem unusual to our sense of how families live, she added.
"Culturally, people of color tend to have a more tight family unit and multi-generational living is more the norm," January explained. "So we're seeing Americans struggle to reconcile their own culture with this changing demographic that's been caused by the recession making it economically necessary to 'double up' in housing. But also the fact the more people (especially minorities) see multi-generational living as normal."
January said this population increase would likely cause a shift to more multi-family housing development in the coming years as communities work to mitigate the continually growing need for affordable housing along the Wasatch Front.
"Our demographics are changing (and) we're going to have more people than ever before," she said. "We're going to have to start building up instead of out."