We’ve all heard by now that Utah is growing, and growing fast. We are set to double our population to nearly 6 million Utahns by the year 2050. But for the first time in 40 years, Utah currently has more families in need of housing than we do households for them to live in. In total, the state is 54,000 housing units short.

This housing shortage leaves families struggling to find any housing, let alone housing within their price range. This problem will only continue to worsen as the state continues to grow. And with the majority of this growth coming more from births rather than in-migration, closing the housing gap means finding places for our children and grandchildren to live in Utah.

Reasons for the housing shortage vary from increasing building costs and decreasing labor supply to resistance from residents to high-density housing and local zoning restrictions. While progress in any of these areas would make closing the housing gap more attainable, there is one action that would address multiple barriers to closing the gap: clarifying Utah’s referendum laws. In the last election, we saw several municipalities block developments that would help close Utah’s housing gap via the referendum process. In both instances, these projects had been through many public forums and debate and voted on by the city planning commissions and city councils. Zoning by citizen referendum is never the ideal solution.

The current laws and policies surrounding referendums can create confusion among developers, cities, and residents regarding what local initiative is being proposed, the pros and cons, and how it affects individuals and the broader community. With clearer referendum laws, all parties can be fully informed throughout the decision-making process, avoid misinformation and set clear expectations for developers and local governments to go about communicating plans with local residents. When all parties have better expectations and less confusion surrounding referendum laws, they can make more well-informed, smart growth-oriented decisions that will help to close the housing gap in Utah.

To learn more about the Salt Lake Chamber’s housing legislative priorities, visit our website.