A certain handful of places leap to mind when the words "housing's affordability crisis" are mentioned.

Utah may not be one of them.

But Utah, like a lot of other places--especially ones that tend to offer natural beauty, a dynamic economy, and jobs growth--has not been building homes enough to keep pace with a blistering rate of population growth over the years since the recovery. Because there's been a gap between household formation and units of construction, and that shows no signs of narrowing, demand for each unit has intensified, raising prices, and moving many would be participants into one of two places as regards housing options.

One is out of the game altogether.

The other, is to live overburdened, or extremely overburdened thanks to housing payments eating up an outsized share of household wages.

On a school teacher's salary in Utah, less than 1 in 10 of Utah's available for-sale or for-rent units is an option, thanks to the fact that nine of those units are beyond the means of a school teacher, or a fire fighter, or an EMS/rescue worker, or any number of other public service essential workers.

Part of why that is came through in these data points, from a survey of 36 municipalities throughout Utah by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah:

Key Findings

  • The 2017 Permit & Impact Fee Survey found that the average fee for a 1,500-square foot townhome was $11,921, for a 2,000-square foot, 2-story single-family home, the average fee was $14,172, and for a 2,000-square foot rambler, the average fee was $14,395.
  • A historical impact and permit fee analysis showed the median fee for the 18 cities increased 26 percent between 2007 and 2017.
  • The cost of developing raw land has increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2017. In 2007, the cost of developing an average lot was $37,000, since then costs have increased by $15,000. Today, the average lot costs approximately $52,000 to develop. The average cost of building a 2,000 square foot single-family home has increased 33 percent from 2007 to 2017. The aver- age cost of construction in 2007 was $180,000 per unit, today it is $240,000.

For the state's No. 1 home builder, that's a lot of people who are priced out of the picture of values, of aspiration, of motivation that builder Ivory Homes stands for. So, Ivory Homes--and its visionary leader Clark Ivory--have decided to find a way to add those people--Utah's essential worker population--to the universe of customers it aims to serve.

Nationally, the swath of essential workers is both gigantic and largely unmined as a potential customer base. Homeownership rates reached historical levels of about 64% last year, but homeownership among young adults, 25 to 29 and 30 to 34, is down by an alarming -8.1%, and -11.7%, respectively since their 2004 peak. Also, for more than 35 million households whose total incomes range between 50% and 120% of America’s median income of $58,000, homeownership today is a pipedream in an increasing number of markets. More than one of every three households is “cost-burdened,” paying more than 30% of their incomes on their housing, with 21 million renters among those who are cost-burdened. Fully a quarter of renter households pay half their income or more on housing.

Median- and just-below median income households find themselves, or believe themselves to be non-participants in new housing development of any kind, since market players in residential development and construction can't pencil projects that offer them access.

This morning, Ivory Homes announced a program that will do just that. From a prepared statement, here's the details:

The Utah Workforce Housing Priority, an effort from Ivory Homes, Utah’s Number One Homebuilder®, is focused on assisting professions that provide a public service and first-time homebuyers. The program, taking place outside any government obligation, reserves the most affordable homes for critical members of Utah’s workforce.

“In a climate of increasing housing prices and affordability challenges, we have a duty to those serving our communities and to assist them in becoming homeowners,” said Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes. “We are committed to helping address Utah’s housing affordability challenges by supporting our educators, public safety professionals, veterans, members of our military, and the construction tradespeople that build our homes.”

Utahns whose careers are centered around public service and first-time homebuyers can sign up on the priority list at ivoryhomes.com/workforcehousing. Individuals on the priority list will then be queued for the next available home in the area they desire.

“Utah’s economy is built on a collaborative and enterprising spirit,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert, “I’m proud to see our private-sector come up with innovative approaches to ensure those who make our communities great can afford to call them home.”

Those on the Utah Workforce Housing Priority list will be given preference for more than 150 lots in 19 different cities that will be available this year. In addition to priority access to these homes, Ivory Homes will also be providing landscaping and giving $2,000 towards closing costs or options, such as washer and dryer, refrigerator, window coverings.

This effort comes as a recent report from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute noted how extremely limited housing choices are for teachers and public safety employees. For instance, the report estimated that only 8.8% of housing options in 2017 were affordable to a first-year public school teacher or a similar public service professional.

Ivory Homes’ Utah Workforce Priority program seeks to enhance and maintain the quality of life in our communities and neighborhoods as we work to preserve affordability in the state of Utah. More information can be found at ivoryhomes.com/workforcehousing.

Two years ago, it was a question of who--among builders--could get position and traction in the entry-level market, and how they'd do once they re-mapped operations, land, and strategy to that opportunity.

Now, we believe, the challenge and opportunity have intensified. Who'll gain first position (as Oakwood Homes did here) and best chances at bottom line impact by virtue of exposure to America's essential worker "missing middle" group? The race is on.