Saifee: The Stage is Set for Gentrification in Salt Lake City


Gwen Christopherson

A development project underway off of 500 S and 1300 E in Salt Lake City on October 15th 2020. (Photo by Gwen Christopherson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Zahra Saifee, Opinion Editor


Utah’s population is booming — thanks to economic growth in Salt Lake and Utah counties, and a relatively low unemployment rate despite the pandemic. People from California and other western states are flocking to Utah in pursuit of economic stability. However, Utah’s housing infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle our growing population — even before the pandemic, we faced a housing deficit. But more pointedly, the real issue is that Utah prioritizes housing development for middle-class families and young entrepreneurs over affordable housing for lower socioeconomic status and often Black, Indigenous or people of color. Utah is experiencing “growing pains” — inadequate housing for the most vulnerable and the gentrification of our most diverse neighborhoods.

At first glance, gentrification doesn’t seem harmful, as it is the process of revitalizing neighborhoods to boost market value. New apartments and businesses are built, attracting wealthier residents and subsequently increasing the property values and prices in that area. While the rebuilding of infrastructure isn’t inherently bad, the increasing prices displace many of the original residents as they cannot afford the new prices. This displacement disproportionately impacts lower socioeconomic status and marginalized communities. The “urban renewal” coincides with “minority removal,” leaving many people in vulnerable housing situations.

Gentrification is already happening in Salt Lake City, as apartment buildings appear seemingly overnight on 400 S., South Temple, State Street and 300 W. These apartment buildings are averaging upwards of $1000 for one-bedroom units, which is unaffordable for the working class. New housing developments will force Tina Balderrama, a hardworking nurse living on Salt Lake City’s northwest side, out of her home. In an interview with The Daily Utah Chronicle, she mentioned that her brother and his family were displaced first, and after they moved in with her, they were notified by the city that the property they lived upon was scheduled for demolition. By the end of March, Balderrama and her family must find another place to live. Balderrama expressed her frustration with the new developers’ lack of understanding and the city council’s lack of empathy. She wants action to be taken because “it’s [gentrification] like a domino effect all over the city.”

Currently, Salt Lake City and Utah’s government have claimed that they are making strides towards affordable housing, but their actions have shown otherwise. The Utah legislature recently passed S.B. 164, “Utah Housing Affordability Amendments,” which allows cities to give land to developers and put money upfront for housing projects, but only after the clause that required private developers to include affordable homes in their developments were cut. Additionally, of the $35 million proposed for addressing Utah’s housing crisis, only $10 million was funded, none of which will be for rental assistance. Our state and city need to put their money where their mouths are in order to create change. At a personal level, Balderrama claimed that the city was too busy pointing fingers at each other and playing the blame game to create solutions for her family and others who were in similar situations.

Salt Lake City can solve the housing crisis and combat gentrification by creating a multifaceted solution that addresses the concerns of those facing displacement. The telltale signs of a neighborhood on the gentrification “chopping block” are in close proximity to transit stations and downtown hubs. We must evaluate which places are vulnerable and create policies and programs to allocate resources to these places. Currently, Salt Lake City’s housing policy states that if housing units are demolished, the new development must have the same number of new units. However, it doesn’t give any restrictions on pricing. Affordable housing and below-market pricing for lower-income residents are severely lacking in housing policy, and it must be explicitly stated to protect vulnerable communities. More specifically, if the city plans on rezoning a certain area, it should draw up a contract with the current residents based upon equitable conditions and community concerns. Lastly, there needs to be a robust network of policymakers, lawyers, landlords and developers that will prioritize explicit provisions for affordable housing in new zoning projects.

As a college student, the housing crisis and gentrification are extremely pertinent to our communities and future. We want to live in a place that is affordable, equitable and supports the most vulnerable people in our city. Balderrama stated that our generation is the future politicians and lawmakers that will be changing this city — we must use our voices and positions as students to hold our city accountable to the future we want to see.


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