Orem, like other cities throughout the state, is coming to grips with its deficit in moderate income housing options.
During Tuesday’s city council work session, long-term city developer Kirby Snideman presented results of a moderate income survey of the city and what needs to be done to assure those who come to Orem in the future have the ability to rent and purchase in their income levels.
Snideman presented the first question to the council to help give perspective. He asked, “what is affordable housing?”
According to most groups, from realtors to lenders, affordable housing costs no more than 30 percent of your income. That includes mortage/rent, insurance and property taxes.
Snideman said the average median income in Orem is approximately $65,000 a year. That means they can own a home that’s up to $220,000 or have a mortgage of $1,250 a month.
Currently, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartments are going for about $1,200 a month.
“Until recently, the Utah housing market provided more new housing units than new households — in other words, the supply of housing kept up with the demand,” according to the survey. “Since 2011 this has not been the case. The reasons for this are varied, but chief among them are land constraints, restrictive zoning ordinances, and rising construction costs.”
While these are national trends, Utah has been disproportionately impacted, due to its larger than average families and the high rate of population growth, the survey concludes.
Snideman said the upside for Orem is that compared to the Utah County and State averages, households in Orem that make roughly 80 percent of the household area median income are more likely to find housing that does not exceed 30 percent of their income (the general measure of affordability).
“This is due in large part to Orem’s long history of zoning for a range of housing types, many of which offer lower housing costs,” Snideman told the council. “Housing options in Orem include smaller single-family homes on smaller lots, as well as accessory apartments, duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and larger multifamily housing.”
He added, “The biggest restriction driver is reproduction.”
Its Orem’s children that want to stay in the area who need affordable housing. He noted that while Orem doesn’t have enough affordable housing, people continue to come.
Those people are still finding places, typically in parent’s or relatives basements. Snideman said these are signs Orem still has an affordable housing need.
Older senior citizens are also in need of affordable housing, particularly those on fixed incomes.
Orem city 2018 figures show that 58 percent of residents are homeowners in the city and 42 percent are renters. Approximately 7,000 households are earning $35,000 a year or less.
Snideman said that all of this is not a bad thing. “We have a history of inclusion.”
He noted that when Geneva Steel mill was built, many of the homes were smaller or on smaller lots so they could be affordable for the mill workers.
Those older homes are still in Orem and have, in many cases, been gutted and modernized.
Mayor Richard Brunst spoke of a small home he entered during his recent campaign. “It looked like a New York Apartment, it was beautiful.”
Brunst recently proclaimed the week of Aug. 26-Sept. 1 as Affordable Housing week in Orem. He has had several meetings and events addressing the topic and was excited to recognize the Tiny Home event at University Place held Aug. 25.
Brunst was also interested in modular homes and other smaller homes that would be allowed in the city. He would like to discuss zoning options and areas of the city for these smaller homes.
“To allow for strategic growth and help increase the supply of housing, the Orem City Council has adopted the City Center District mixed-use zone and is considering additional Districts along State Street,” Snideman said. “As well, Orem will be exploring other strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing in the City, as outlined in the study.
He added that, “Ultimately, Orem recognizes that this a regional issue, and the City is committed to being part of a regional response.”
City planners are looking at a variety of options but understand that it will take great planning and will be a one to two year project as they set goals; but they can’t wait too long.
“We need to involve the community in these discussions,” said Jamie Davidson, city manager. “Hopefully we’ll avoid walking into a trap.”
Brunst added, “The reality is we have a problem.”
Based on the data contained in the survey report as well as discussions with housing advocates, realtors, developers, community members, and other stakeholders, Snideman said the following strategies have been recommended for further study:
• Explore public/private partnerships for affordable housing.
• Fast track affordable housing projects.
• Study lot size and housing unit size minimums.
• Educate residents on housing affordability issues.
• Explore a community land trust.
• Rediscover the missing middle.
• Re-invest in Orem’s older neighborhoods.