Making Housing Work for Utah Families

June 7, 2019

There are many pressing issues today that deserve our attention – so many, in fact, that it can sometimes be difficult to keep them straight.

But there is one issue – one challenge facing the American people today – that rises above the rest. That issue is the family, and I believe that its break down may be the single defining challenge of our time.

More than just a provider of material protections, the family is the shaper of human character. By teaching us what it means to live with duties and obligations toward others, the family prepares us for citizenship and teaches us how to live as members of a community.

The family has always been the linchpin of American life, but today more than ever, the American family is in trouble.

Fewer Americans are getting married today than ever before, and when they do marry, they are getting married later in life.

In 1960, 72 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 were married Today that number has fallen to just 50 percent. The median age for first marriage was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men in 1960. Today, the average woman doesn’t get married till 27.4 years and the average man waits until 29 and a half.

With marriage being pushed off until later in life, or sometimes being abandoned altogether, our nation’s fertility rate has also fallen to an all-time low. And for those that are lucky enough to be born, the odds of being born to married parents is lower than ever. In 1960, just 5 percent of births were to single parents. Today that number is 40 percent.

And this decline of the American family has real impacts on Americans. A 2015 report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute concluded that, “Reams of social science and medical research convincingly show that children who are raised by their married, biological parents enjoy better physical, cognitive and emotional outcomes than children raised in other circumstances.”

Research also shows that intact families create strong communities that benefit everyone. Economists from Harvard and Cal-Berkeley recently published a report finding that low-income kids are more likely to succeed – regardless of whether their parents were married – so long as they grow up in a community with lots of two-parent families.

In other words, strong families make strong communities.

Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that the high cost of housing is a big reason marriages and families are starting later, if they start at all.

According to a recent YouGov poll, 40 percent of young adults say they would not consider getting married until they can buy their own home. Similarly, a recent Bank of America report found that 72 percent of Americans prioritize owning a home over getting married.

These delayed marriages seem to be leading to delayed family formation. A 2012 University of California at Los Angeles study found that being in an expensive housing market delayed a mother’s first birth by three to four years after controlling for education, ethnicity, and labor market participation.

The evidence is clear: if we care about the strength of the American family, then we should also care about high housing prices.

Now, like every other issue in Washington, I don’t believe there is a silver bullet fix to these problems. But our own Salt Lake City community is leading the way in identifying possible solutions, and this Tuesday at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Innovative Housing Showcase, I spoke with two entrepreneurs who are working to solve this issue.

Dustin Haggett, the founding partner of Modal Living, builds “accessory dwelling units” which allow working families to install pre-built plug-and-play homes on their existing residential properties. These units both increase density and housing supply, thus making housing more affordable, and provide a new stream of income for working families.

Last year, the Salt Lake City Council rolled back local land use regulations to allow more of these units in the city.

Chris Gamvroulas, president of Ivory Developments, talked about the need for local governments to provide more flexibility when permitting new developments. He noted how something as simple regulations on the thickness of roads in new developments can significantly drive up building costs.

There is a lot more localities can do to make land use regulations more flexible and there may even be a role for the federal government to remove financing distortions for working families who want to pursue this option. I am proud Utah is already a leader in effective housing reform and I look forward to helping that tradition continue.