The minimum wage in Utah is not enough to afford even a modest rent

There isn’t a county in Utah where people working 40 hours a week at minimum wage can earn enough to afford the cheapest housing — not even a studio.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The County High Rise residential tower in Salt Lake City, pictured Tuesday, July 5, 2022, is a highly affordable complex for seniors.

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

Along the Wasatch Front and near St. George and Moab, it takes more than 100 hours at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rents.

Utahns working for minimum wage have to work fewer hours in the state’s more rural counties, but they still have to work nearly 88 hours a week to spend 30% of their income on an affordable two-bedroom home.

In fact, there isn’t a county in Utah where people with a minimum-wage job can work a standard 40-hour week and earn enough to afford a modest apartment — not even a studio.

Minimum-wage workers have the greatest difficulty affording rental housing, although many people earn more but still not enough to truly afford their housing, said Andrew Aurand, senior vice president of research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Even a worker earning twice the minimum wage in Utah — closer to a “living wage” at $14 an hour — would have to put in between 45.4 and 85.3 hours a week to own a modest two-bedroom – to be able to afford rent.

Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes Out of Reach, which details the gap between renters’ wages and the cost of their housing. The report estimates how much a full-time employee must earn to be able to afford a modest rent at the state’s fair market rate, without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs, which is a widely used measure of affordability.

Market Rent is an estimate issued annually by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development of what a family moving today can expect for a moderately priced rental home in a given area. It is used to determine standard payments for the Housing Choice Voucher program, public housing and other affordable housing programs.

From St. George to Moab to Logan, workers earning the $7.25 minimum wage in Utah would have to work at least two weeks to ensure they didn’t spend more than 30% of their income on inexpensive housing.

11 counties have this lowest but still close to 88 hours: Beaver, Carbon, Daggett, Emergy, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Rich, San Juan, Sevier, and Wayne. All are classified as rural or borderline by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

Rent hours are highest in Summit and Salt Lake counties, where at minimum wage it would take 164.8 and 159.6 hours, respectively, to afford a modest two-bedroom rent.

Rates for single-city counties—such as Salt Lake City, Ogden (Weber), Provo (Utah), and St. George (Washington)—are based on metro-area rates.

Those numbers don’t apply to luxury apartments, Aurand said. They apply to rents that are below the mid-market. Even at those rents, the market is unaffordable for people working for the minimum wage and other low wages, he said.

“It’s forcing tenants with really low wages to spend most of their wages on housing,” Aurand said.

They do this by sacrificing other essentials, he said, including food, medicine and resources for their children.

Excessive rent payments severely affect family well-being and worsen mental and physical health, especially for mothers, he added.

Federal, state and local authorities are having to make multiple efforts to deal with the crisis, Aurand said.

The federal government needs to allocate more funding to rental subsidies, as well as vouchers and programs like the National Housing Trust Fund that help increase the stock of affordable housing, he said. These programs would step in to close the gap between wages and rents, which the private market alone cannot do, he added.

State governments also need to put more resources into programs to improve affordability, he said.

Utah has a rental assistance program funded by state and federal funds, a state tax credit program for low-income housing, and the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, which provides loans and grants for affordable housing development.

According to a recent report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the state does not fund a housing voucher, short-term housing assistance program, or transitional housing assistance program, and does not collect a property transfer tax.

Finally, local governments need to ensure zoning laws don’t make rental housing development too difficult, Aurand said.

Megan Banta is the data reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. a philanthropic position. The Tribune retains control of all editorial decisions.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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