SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s population grew at 18.4 percent or 507,731 residents in the last ten years — the fastest rate in the nation.

The growth is having a substantial impact on our state with a housing shortage, increased traffic on major roadways, more pollution in the air, heightened demand for resources, and more. During the past week, we explored how population growth affects different areas of our state, with a different theme each night for our IN FOCUS discussions that include agriculture/open lands, transportation, air quality, water/drought, and housing.

Envision Utah reports that Utah is currently facing a housing shortage of between 40,000 and 50,000 units. Their researchers say less than half of our population can afford the median price of a house right now, which essentially means there are firefighters, nurses, and teachers who can’t afford to live in or near the communities they serve. Additionally, the organization finds that housing prices along the Wasatch Front have grown more than most places in the country.

The shortage is mainly caused by a combination of the “perfect storm.” Envision says Utah has a higher birth rate than the national average, with children accounting for 65 percent of our growth. There are currently labor and material shortages. Furthermore, our geography poses constraints on how far out we can build because of our mountains and lakes.

There’s not a lot of land left near our primary job centers and experts say if we don’t allow more housing in the valley where the jobs, people will have to drive farther for work — leading to increased traffic, air pollution, and infrastructure costs. They say that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to put up apartment buildings everywhere. But ideally, those apartments should be close to jobs, shopping, and public transportation. Researchers also suggest accommodating more housing with smaller lots, townhomes, duplexes, apartments in basements, and more.

Ari Bruening, president and CEO of Envision Utah joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. He explained the factors behind Utah’s housing boom, the geographical constraints in the state, how big of a role Californians play in the growth, whether our kids will have to move a long way to find affordable housing, how we can add more housing without making traffic and air quality worse, and what our housing situation is going to look like in the next few decades.

Dejan Eskic, senior research fellow for the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute discussed the data on how unaffordable homes are becoming in Utah, how we compare to the rest of the country when it comes to our housing prices, the nuances that come with building more housing, what causes the rising housing prices, whether people should wait for houses to get more affordable before buying a home, and what the best practices are for keeping housing affordable.

Angela Price, policy director in community and neighborhoods department for Salt Lake City talked about what the city can do to incentivize historic buildings to be re-used rather than demolished, how the city responds to neighborhoods that are opposed to change for new housing types, and how the city creatively thinks about housing solutions.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Bruening, Eskic, and Price, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.