A housing study conducted for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows Salt Lake City, like many cities in the country, has a significant problem with substandard housing.
A Housing Assistance Plan survey conducted by the city's Building and Housing Division found 15.6 percent, or 11,500 of the 73,700 owner-occupied and rented dwellings in Salt Lake City are substandard, according to HUD standards. Substandard means a house needs rehabilitation ranging from moderate repairs to substantial reconstruction, said city Housing Planner Laura Landikusic.Cities seeking HUD funding must complete Housing Assistance Plans, used to determine how much federal support cities can obtain. New homes can be built, others rehabilitated with HUD money. Salt Lake City submitted their plan to HUD this week.
Most of the 11,500 dwellings could be fixed up, Landikusic said, but the large number of houses needing repair reflects the low priority housing needs have assumed in society.
"It's a social deficit. If we're going to change it we have to make housing a priority," she said.
Landikusic attributes the numbers of substandard dwellings to a generally poor economy and an elderly housing stock in Salt Lake City.
With a stronger economy comes "more jobs, more money, better households," she said, pointing out that in poor economic times, homeowners and landlords simply can't afford to pay for home improvements.
Salt Lake City is also the oldest city in the state and one of the older municipalities in the west. The city's heritage includes many houses that are so old they are simply deteriorating, she said.
Additionally, Patrick Sorensen, a policy analyst for Mayor Palmer DePaulis, said many rental units in the city are owned by absentee landlords who do not keep up facilities for tenants.
But poor housing conditions are not only a reflection of age, economy and absentee ownership. Substandard housing is also a sign of the national attitude about housing.
"Housing conditions are something we have to watch more carefully," she said.
Low-income advocates point to a proposed landlord-tenant ordinance as one means of addressing substandard housing problems in the city. The ordinance would, among other provisions, permit renters to make home repairs and subtract the cost from rent.
The Salt Lake Citizens Congress recommended the ordinance to the city but DePaulis, after a recommendation from City Attorney Roger Cutler, said the ordinance would be better addressed by the Utah Legislature.
Bruce Plenk, attorney for the Citizen's Congress, said Cutler is "stone-walling" the ordinance. If enacted, the ordinance would permit renters to make needed repairs, saving city and federal government from the cost of rehabilitating dwellings.
Salt Lake City isn't the only city in the valley, or in the rest of the nation, with a substantial number of poorly maintained homes. Thirty-six percent of West Valley City's 17,000 houses are substandard, said West Valley City Grants Manager Cheryl Buckner. Buckner added West Valley City's standards for housing quality are stricter than Salt Lake City's.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 7.6 million substandard houses. Additionally, home ownership in the United States steadily declined from 1980 to 1987.
In Salt Lake City, home ownership has also declined. The housing assistance study found more than 50 percent of the city's homes are renter-occupied, not owner occupied. "That's a characteristic of the inner-city,' Landikusic said.