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Guest op-ed: Renters are people, too

By Angela Choberka - | Sep 3, 2021

Angela Choberka

During my time on the Ogden City Council, I have worked to ensure that community members have equitable opportunities for overall well-being, in important areas like health, education, employment and housing. And throughout my term, I have consistently heard comments regarding high-density housing and renters insinuating that the people who live there and/or who rent housing are not as valuable as those of us who own homes. These conversations make me uncomfortable for a number of reasons. One reason is that I have spent the majority of my life either renting my own home or living with family members who were renters. The other reason is that these comments often serve to create or reinforce a community hierarchy that I did not agree to be a part of — are renters really less likely to be engaged residents and to keep their homes well-maintained? Who knows where these ideas originate; maybe within the picture-perfect scenario of the American Dream. These sentiments are often masked under subtle or not-so-subtle statements about how property values will be negatively impacted or that higher-density housing will change the neighborhood “feel” in a negative way — too much traffic, too little green space and the like. At times, these concerns have merit, but they often also ignore the positive impacts of healthy economic diversity and responsibly planned higher-density housing solutions. And I guess I am not interested in saying, “now that I’ve got mine, too bad for everyone else.”

In truth, in our community there is just not enough space to accommodate our growing population if we insist on keeping the standards that were once the norm — the reality is that in 2020 there was a 53,000-unit housing shortage in Utah. In February, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute reported that higher-density housing in the Salt Lake County area in the past 10 years did not negatively impact single-family home property values overall; in fact, those houses within a half-mile of such developments actually increased in value by about 10% on average annually. This report also debunked the traffic congestion myth by citing a study by the National Personal Transportation Survey that found, “doubling density decreases vehicle miles traveled by 38% since denser households typically own fewer vehicles.” As for green space, it is possible to require that green space be retained in higher-density developments and to plan for greater sustainability with regard to maintenance and water usage in the process. I’m not advocating for eliminating public green spaces, only to consider privately owned, unoccupied lots as what they really are — usually not well-kept investment property for those who are able to obtain and grow wealth over time.

Who are these renters anyway? I can tell you that they are sometimes young adults who do not yet want to set down more permanent roots, but want the independence of their own space. They can be older adults who do not want to have the responsibility of taking care of a house and yard. They could be people who are underemployed and/or underpaid to the extent that they cannot possibly be banked or credible enough financially to be approved for a home loan. They could be a married couple that both work full time but can still barely make the rent (which is probably more than a monthly mortgage payment would be). They are almost 44% of our friends and neighbors in Ogden. They are 44% of the folks who purchase goods and services here — they could be university employees, small business owners, creatives/artists, industrial workers or someone just like you. So let’s all think about how we are framing the conversation around who gets to inhabit and own a space to live.

Angela Choberka is a member of the Ogden City Council representing District 1. She is currently running for reelection.

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