Can 'the missing middle' help solve Utah's housing crisis?

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New housing in Vineyard is pictured on Aug. 11. A new study from the Utah Foundation says focusing on a variety of affordable multifamily housing options could help solve Utah’s housing crisis. ( Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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LEHI — Utahns are very concerned about affordable housing for future generations, according to new study that puts forward “missing middle housing” as part of the solution to the state’s housing crisis.

On Wednesday, the Utah Foundation released the first of a four-part study called “Is the Middle Missing? A Guide to Expanding Options for Utah Homebuyers and Renters.”

“Over time, the cost of lower-priced homes has increased more than higher-priced ones, meaning that the attainability of entry-level home­ownership with affordable mortgages has disappeared for some Utahns,” the study said.

According to the study, 90% of those responding to a survey said they are worried about housing costs but are even more worried about housing affordability for young Utahns.

“For those of us with kids, we’re really worried about the housing costs for our own children going forward,” said Shawn Teigen, the principal author of the study and the foundation’s vice president and director of research.

The study also found that over the last decade, when adjusting for inflation, a mortgage payment on a median-priced home in the Beehive State has increased by $469 (from a payment of $1,131 in 2010 to the current $1,600).

“It’s wild how fast housing prices have increased,” Teigen said. “A lot more people are going to be locked out and be forced to only rent going forward because housing prices have just gone too high and mortgage costs are too high.”

With Utah’s population growth expected to continue, the study puts forward “missing middle housing” as part of the solution to increase supply and offer lower price points.

Middle housing refers to a variety of multifamily housing options focusing on neighborhood walkability and being affordable to various income levels, the report said, including duplexes, fourplexes, townhomes and other multiunit buildings.

“Middle housing offers the potential to increase the supply of housing, but in a way that is not objectionable to most neighbors and with a standard of design that can improve upon the neighborhoods,” the report said. “There are obstacles to increasing this type of housing, though they are not insurmountable.”

In subsequent reports, released between now and mid-January, the Utah Foundation will detail how the state can add middle housing, where it’s currently available and how to overcome obstacles.

“Apartment complexes alone cannot close the 45,000-door housing gap, considering the demand for owned homes,” the report said. “And single-family homes cannot close the gap considering costs. Instead, there need to be more options for a wider variety of Utahns.”

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