Utah’s Multi-Family Housing Boom
Debunking the Myths of Multi-Family Housing Stereotypes
In 2015 Utah’s population reached 3 million. You probably see the effects of this growth as you commute on Interstate-15, visit Lagoon or attend a Real soccer game. It’s especially evident when you notice a subdivision or apartment building under construction. Utah now leads the nation in its growth rate for housing, but the irony is we’re adding more households than housing units. And as a result, home prices and apartment rents are increasing at a rate that outpaces wage growth.
Where did all these people come from? Our growth can be attributed to our state’s strong economy and high birthrate. And it doesn’t show signs of slowing. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects the State to reach 5 million in 2050. With less and less undeveloped land, the options for housing within our existing valleys are dwindling and the days of building a home on a quarter- or half-acre lot are numbered.
“In order to meet demand, we must think differently about housing,” suggests CMA Principal, Curtis Miner. “We have to start looking at higher density and affordable housing solutions for people who are here and those who will be living here in the future.”
While high density and affordable housing may help our housing shortage, to some they are undesirable. Look no further than Olympia Hills or the vacant Cottonwood Mall site. It’s a solution some don’t want in their community. Mike Anderson, Associate Architect, believes public perception may be an issue. “Neighborhoods or communities hear of multi-family housing and think of a development that sees regular visits from the police. They envision renters who are transient and not invested in the community.”
The reality is more high density has been built in Utah in the last decade than in any time in Utah’s housing history. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute reported building permits were issued for 11,025 multi-family units in 2018, the highest number on record. While the shift to multi-family housing is a result of higher new home prices, it is also the result of shifts in lifestyle and in-migration of buyers who are more accustomed to this type of housing stock. Whether it’s a desire to live near a TRAX station or to skip the responsibility of a yard, buyers are living in high density by choice.
Architects play a key role in improving the perceptions associated with higher density projects. “Historically, design professionals have been more concerned with density and less with community,” says Curtis Miner. “As we meet with developers, city planners and community leaders, we talk about hubs for living, shopping, learning and working for people who can walk or bike between these amenities. The value and need for well-designed and located communities is here – the half-acre lot is an age gone by. We’ve got to plan for what the community will be in the next 20 to 50 years.”
CMA recently completed The Parkway Lofts, a pilot project for high density-mixed use living. Located next to the Orem Frontrunner Train and Central Station and adjacent to Utah Valley University, the project meets the demands of a tenant who seeks a variety of amenities in a part of the valley where a housing shortage persists. It was particularly rewarding to work with Orem City to help write zoning code for multi-family housing.
“We can help inform a city on how to write the criteria and support the design ideas that make good architecture,” says Mike. “In architecture we’re asked to think globally but act locally. It’s incredibly satisfying to have the global knowledge and vision but recognize the local need.”