Blog Post

Insight: Reflections on Affordability in Utah’s Housing Market

By: James Wood

A companion piece to “Housing Affordability: What Are Best Practices and Why Are They Important?”, Gardner Policy Institute, University of Utah, November 2020.

For nearly 50 years, Utah’s housing market has been at the center of my professional career. In 1972, I was hired as a graduate assistant at the University of Utah’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). Thayne Robson, the director, wanted me to help with BEBR’s construction database. Housing was already an interest of mine. I had just finished a research paper on national housing trends. The opportunity to learn about local trends proved to be the beginning of my long journey with Utah’s housing market and the issue of affordability.

Two Concepts of Affordability

  • Affordable Housing Versus Housing Affordability—I need to begin with an important but often overlooked distinction between two key phrases: affordable housing and housing affordability. Affordable housing refers to a specific type of housing, generally government-assisted rental housing, targeted for very low– to extremely low–income households. Housing affordability is a much broader term and refers to the general level of housing prices relative to the general level of household incomes. The term does not refer to any particular type of housing.
  • Complementary Concepts—The two concepts are not mutually exclusive or in conflict but are complementary; however, they generally have different root causes that requi