In 2023, U.S. News and World Report acclaimed Utah as the leading economy in the nation and the top state overall, a status Utah’s leaders are eager to preserve in 2024.
At Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel on January 12, a gathering of about 1,000 influencers in business and government convened for the annual Utah Economic Outlook & Public Policy Summit. This event focused on economic projections and policy considerations for the onset of the new year.
The Gardner Policy Institute highlighted Utah’s strong economic performance in 2023, noting the state’s highest levels of workforce participation since 2010.
Despite challenges in sectors sensitive to interest rates, such as real estate, banking, and technology, Utah saw substantial growth in other areas. These included tourism, public construction, oil and gas extraction, and healthcare, as reported by the Gardner Policy Institute.
During the summit, a key point of conversation on Friday morning centered around a pressing issue: housing affordability at both state and national scales.
Housing Affordability is Utah Real Estate’s Constant Companion
Utah Governor Spencer Cox, in his introductory speech, expressed his concern. It seems that he believes the most significant risk to the future economic well-being of Utah is the cost of housing within our fair state.
He continued describing the scope of the problem as he sees it, saying something along the lines of: “This phenomenon is not unique to one location; it’s a global trend, prevalent in nearly every developed nation. However, it’s particularly pronounced in the Western regions due to our thriving economy.”
An example of this is a recent Construction Coverage study indicates that in Salt Lake City buying a home is 116.3% costlier than renting, which positions rent as a more financially sensible choice for nearly everyone.
Historically, the overall monthly costs linked to home buying, including sale prices, mortgage interests, and property taxes, were considerably less than the average rent expenses across the U.S. Yet, starting in 2022, the study’s authors discovered a mix of soaring home prices and elevated interest rates shifted the balance towards renting. As of November 2023, the standard monthly mortgage payment in the U.S. exceeds the average monthly rent by over 22%.
Citing some of these concerns, Governor Cox cautioned that without measures to address soaring housing prices, the repercussions would be dire for future generations. The essence of his remarks was that if home ownership is unattainable, then the quintessential American dream ceases to exist. He believes that owning a home is fundamental to prosperity. That it grounds us, boosts the economy, enriches culture, and strengthens communities – it’s at the heart of all we cherish.
He closed with an admonition, urging the audience to envision the United States half a century from now should an entire generation experience life devoid of home ownership. “I submit to you that is a very, very bleak picture,” he said.