Alexander: We Need to Regulate the Rental Market


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By CJ Alexander, Opinion Editor


According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Utah rental home needs to cost $377 a month for a minimum-wage worker to afford it. In Salt Lake City, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment costs $1,150 a month. Even if working full time, any Utah citizen earning minimum wage could not afford such an apartment.

Nearly 1 in 5 renters in Utah spend more than half their income on housing, leaving little left for the bare necessities like utilities, groceries, phone bills, transportation, emergency expenses and other bills.

Rental prices are outpacing the wages of Utah’s workers — whether they make minimum wage or not. And unfortunately, rent increases show no signs of stopping, despite the pandemic’s ongoing consequences and renters’ continuous struggle to afford housing.

I’m not asking for the housing market to crash, or for a minimum wage of $15 an hour (though we could surely use it). I’m asking for a more forgiving and regulated rental market. Shelter is not a privilege, it’s a right. And when many people are struggling to afford shelter, there’s a problem.

Renters and homeowners in Utah are struggling to keep up with sky-rocketing housing prices and rental costs. Full-time minimum wage earners would need to earn $20.21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair market price, without being cost-burdened. That’s almost triple our current minimum wage of $7.25.

Unfortunately, people are forced out of the housing and rental markets and into other options like “van life,” moving back in with family or homelessness. It’s not promoting growth of any kind and has lasting consequences.

Utah isn’t alone in the struggle to afford rent. Nationwide, minimum-wage earners would have to make about $25 an hour to afford a two-bedroom place without spending over 30% of their income on housing costs. Growth, demand and low vacancies are creating this issue. There simply are not enough apartments for people, so demand outpaces supply. And when tenants are unable to afford these apartments, they are uprooted and forced to start all over again in an unreasonable market.

That’s where the “fight for $15” comes in. While I wholeheartedly support a raise in Utah’s minimum wage, I do not think it will be sufficient to help Utah citizens live comfortably and safely. Instead, we should regulate the rental market.

With rent control, the government can regulate housing affordability for middle-to-low-income families. It’s meant to limit the maximum amount a landlord charges for a rental unit, as housing demand skyrockets. Once the demand for housing increases, rent and purchase prices increase as well, but through regulation, rent control ensures that renters can still afford the cost of living.

As a server who makes on average more than $15 an hour in tips, I’m still struggling to find affordable housing. I live with my parents in Ogden to save money, but for this upcoming school year, I want to be closer to campus. Like many others, I’ve spent the past year building savings and my credit to be able to afford an apartment. And like millions of others, I’ve had my search for an apartment put on hold by the soaring prices of the rental market. I can’t even imagine how people trying to buy their first homes feel right now, as even apartments are too expensive.

It’s not just minimum wage workers affected by this crisis: it’s all workers struggling to live in an increasingly expensive state. Even with a yearly evaluation to adjust the minimum wage based on inflation and the cost of living, we need more: we need to regulate the rental market.

Recently, the national ban on evictions expired. Lawmakers and the Biden administration scrambled to extend the moratorium, and just passed an extension until Oct. 3 of this year. However, we cannot keep relying on eviction bans and rent relief to help citizens afford basic housing., especially with millions of Americans still unemployed.

By regulating the rental market, we can ensure that rent prices are matching that of livable wages in individual counties. In the event of another pandemic-like crisis, we won’t have to depend on the employment status of a renter. If another crisis occurs, the rental market should reflect the income of people living during such a time — whether they are furloughed, laid off or receiving stimulus. That way, landlords and renters alike are prepared for payments and another life-halting event.

This can look like rent relief; however, the distribution of funds to people in need is riddled with barriers. States like California have received rent relief as federal aid, however, the bureaucratic system is hindering and delaying renters from receiving aid. If states paid more attention to their renters, their payments and rental properties, we wouldn’t have this issue. Rental control can save renters and the housing market from utter despair.

Affording a home, or at least an apartment, should not be an unrealistic dream in Utah. It shouldn’t be an unrealistic dream anywhere in America for the average worker. But it is. It remains out of reach for millions of us.

Housing in this country should not remain a privilege for the wealthy. Just as I believe every person deserves clean running water and food, I believe every person deserves shelter. Affording an apartment should be expected, and we can make this happen with regulation. No one deserves to be forced into homelessness or a living situation they are unable to deal with. Shelter is a human right, and it’s time we start acting like it.


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