Iron County Residents Grapple with Housing Affordability4 min read

By Tracie Sullivan

Since 2020, Iron County has been facing a mounting challenge: housing affordability. As the average home price in the area surges to nearly $450,000, many local residents are finding themselves priced out of the housing market.

It’s not just Iron County however, but across Utah. In response, Gov. Spencer Cox has ramped up efforts to encourage cities and counties statewide to adopt measures allowing for smaller lots for starter homes, warning of state intervention should these directives be disregarded.

Ahead of the governor’s directives, the Cedar City Council has already been taking steps to increase the availability of starter homes. They’re actively working on various options and discussing approving smaller lot sizes,” said Councilman Tyler Melling, who is also an attorney for a major local developer.

“Whether it’s approving smaller lot sizes or offering incentives for developers to build smaller homes, we have to continue to find ways to address this issue or our kids aren’t going to be able to afford to stay in the area,” he said.

Parowan City is also exploring various strategies to make home ownership attainable for residents. More recently, the council has approved initiatives like smaller lot sizes and higher-density subdivisions in an effort to try and encourage more diverse developments.

Parowan City Manager Dan Jessen highlighted that a major challenge for many city councils is the opposition from residents worried that smaller homes and lots will devalue their properties.

“It’s a NIMBY phenomenon,” Jessen said. “Residents are concerned that places like duplexes next to their single-family homes will devalue their property and many are very opposed to these types of structures being built next to them.”

Another driver of rising home prices in Parowan is the shift towards retirement living and the nearby Brian Head ski resort, which Jessen said is causing values to skyrocket. As an example, he cited a home built in the 20s now listed for $480,000.

“It’s 1,200 square feet, 100 years old, and needs work, but it’s selling for almost a half a million dollars,” Jessen said.

Melling highlighted another challenge in reducing home prices is city ordinances that restrict access for particular demographics. These regulations, frequently criticized for their elitist implications, significantly affect the availability of affordable housing.

“When you pass an ordinance that says a home cannot be smaller than 2000 square feet or you have to have a minimum lot size of a quarter-acre or more, you have made it impossible for smaller homes or condos and townhomes to be built,” he said. “And you are pushing out anyone in your community that doesn’t fall into a specific income category.”

“And there are city councils throughout the state that are actively doing that so they don’t get anyone in their community who they perceive might be ‘undesirable’.”

Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson challenges the effectiveness of smaller lots and homes in reducing housing costs.

With Iron County’s median annual household income averaging around $63,000, Dotson stressed that simply approving smaller lots won’t resolve the issue. He cites Enoch Council’s efforts, including the approval of smaller lots, which, he contends, haven’t led to lower home prices in the area.

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved but a problem that needs to be managed, and it’s going to take everyone to address it,” Dotson said. “You can’t just point to one actor like the city council or the developers and say, ‘you need to fix this,’ because that’s just one piece of the puzzle.”

Echoing Dotson’s sentiments, Melling points to Utah’s tightly regulated environment that he argues is an issue and plays a pivotal role in driving up home prices. Among these is the restriction preventing anyone other than licensed contractors from working on a home.

“Under state law you’re prohibited from contributing to the construction of your own house,” he said. “The state imposes hefty fines per day for any unauthorized personnel on-site, effectively preventing individuals from engaging in work like framing or drywall installation unless they’re licensed to do so. This is just one example, but there are numerous regulations that need relaxation that would help alleviate some of the price pressures.”

Melling called for greater collaboration between state and local entities to address the housing issue.

“We need to work together to remove obstacles that prevent the creation of affordable housing,” he said. “The fact is that the government is partly responsible for the rising costs of homes and we need to find ways to fix it but the answer isn’t throwing more money at the problem or creating more regulations.”

Likewise, Dotson said it is going to take everyone to ensure future generations will be able to secure the American dream of home ownership.

“We have to work together,” he said. “We can’t just blame one entity or one industry. Like I said before, it’s not a problem we can fix but one we can manage if we work together to do it.”


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