In May 2018, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute published an in-depth analysis of the rising house prices in Utah. The study found that over 26 years, the average annual increase of house prices in Utah was 5.7%. If that continued to be the rate of increase over the next 26 years, the median price of a home in Salt Lake and the Provo-Orem metropolitan areas, the study says, would be a cool $1.3 million. Even adjusted for inflation, which brings the annual rate down to 3.32% over the past 26 years, the median price over the next 26 years would rise to over $700,000.
Incomes have not kept pace in the slightest, increasing at a rate of only 0.36% a year, the study found. Other factors affecting affordability, according to Ivory Homes VP of Public Affairs, Marketing and Senior Economist Michael Parker, include labor costs, ongoing trade wars and scarcity of land.
“We think it’s between $5,000 — $7,000 per home ... that the trade deals are causing to increase prices by themselves,” Parker said. “As (President Donald Trump) has led on this trade war, it’s really impacted housing affordability in a negative way.”
However, Parker said, these are all things that can for the most part be managed, and the real expenses often come down to public policy, land use policies in cities and towns. Fees that cities place on home builders to help cover costs of things like updating a sewage system, or things like impact fees and permit fees that can add up to thousands of dollars.
“A first-time home buyer, that’s their down payment potentially. So you’re moving the goal post just by one impact fee,” Parker said. “So cities can have a really big impact on affordability by being just as disciplined and cost-conscious on impact fees as possible,” as well as other fees, Parker added.
Ivory Homes has built houses and master plan communities for 31 years, and is committed to building only in Utah. Parker said the company feels responsible to lead out on finding solutions for making housing more affordable. Some of the things that company has done in that effort include donating over $1 million to finding a solution, and creating the ”Ivory Prize,” a competition which awards innovative ideas addressing housing affordability. And starting in February, Ivory Homes announced another way its tackling housing affordability: the workforce housing program.
The workforce housing program gives priority to people in parts of the workforce that “build” the community, literally and figuratively. Priority is given to first responders, firefighters, police officers, veterans, members of the military, people working in construction trades, teachers and nurses. First-time homebuyers are also given priority. Anyone can apply to be considered and eligibility will be determined. Ivory Homes will also provide $2,000 to homebuyers for closing costs or to be put towards things like a washer and dryer.
Currently, 200 lots are set aside for the program, with 19 locations. Sixty lots have already been sold, and the company plans to add another seven locations.
“What we’re trying to do is sprinkle (the homes) into every development we do, so that the teacher that teaches at a school nearby can afford a home next to her school, not this separate neighborhood of just teachers and cops,” Parker said.
Detective Dallin Turner has worked for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office for a year and a half. Before that, he worked for the West Jordan Police Department. In total, he’s been in law enforcement for around nine and a half years, inspired by a school resource officer in high school. He married his wife, Joslyn, 12 years ago, and they have three sons and a large dog. As their sons grow up, their current home — the first home they every bought — has been feeling a little small, but they figured it would be a good five to six years before they could ever afford an upgrade.
“Having this program … helped us out, made that reality a lot sooner than I thought it was ever going to be,” Dallin Turner said.
Joslyn Turner said she had been itching to move out of their current neighborhood for a few years, but she didn’t if it was even possible. She heard about the workforce housing program through a friend who works at Ivory Homes, and reached out, not knowing what to expect.
“It kind of snowballed from there. I kept in contact with a Realtor and it just kept moving forward,” she said.
Most of the homes set aside for workforce housing have two to three bedrooms and homebuilders can choose between 12 different floor plans. For the Turners, however, it still wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Instead, they ended up buying a larger home, but they said Ivory Homes still worked with them to make it affordable, even offering $1,500 toward closing costs.
“We weren’t expecting that at all and that’s what was kind of touching to me,” Joslyn Turner said. “To see a big, big company, a big homebuilding company cares enough to put this out there for first responders in general … I think it shows that there’s still that good out there where people are trying to keep things right and do right by this. So it really makes us feel a little bit more valued.”
The Turners are hoping to get a closing date by next week, and possibly move in at the end of July into a home being built in an Ivory Homes community in Eagle Mountain, where Joslyn Turner said she looks forward to taking advantage of other amenities being built by Ivory Homes, such as a pool and a clubhouse.
“I feel like it’s going to feel like home,” she said.
Michael Burke’s situation is significantly different from the Turners. He’s single and works as a computer database engineer — and he’s a first-time homebuyer. Similar to the Turners, he had been thinking about buying a home for a while but thought he was going to have to wait a few more years to save up. He stumbled upon an ad for the workforce housing program and at first thought it was too good to be true, and must be some sort of scam.
After finding out it was not a scam, Burke began working with an Ivory Homes representative. He closes on his new Eagle Mountain home in just a few weeks. Aside from a brief issue with a representative at the Eagle Mountain subdivision, he said it has been smooth sailing, and he described the workforce housing program as “phenomenal.”
“After a couple of months (of) looking for houses before finding out about the program, I was thinking ... there’s no way I can afford this, I’m going to need a another couple of years of saving money,” Burke said. “Then this popped up and the rest is history.”
One of the contractual obligations of the workforce housing program is homebuyers have to stay in the home for two years. Parker said it’s because the homes are being sold at a little less than what they’re worth, and they don’t want people to buy them and turn around and sell them, as that would defeat the purpose of the program. Burke said he feels like two years is a fair deal, especially because he received an independent appraisal of his home that set it’s worth at $30,000 more than what he’s paying.
“I do not think that’s unreasonable at all,” Burke said. “I think (this program) is a step in the right direction.”
Parker said Ivory Homes is going to continue with the workforce housing program after the initial 200 homes are built and sold, and hopefully more homebuilders will follow suit.
“We feel a responsibility to be the leader on affordability, and so we’re hoping that ... other builders will follow us and start looking at how we can help everybody keep costs down and make our state much more affordable,” Parker said.