Utah’s housing crisis is also an alarming public health issue

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Housing developments along the 400 South in Salt Lake City on Thursday, January 13, 2022.

Governor Spencer Cox has requested $228 million to help fund affordable housing in Utah this year, but the Legislative Budget Committee has only recommended $55 million. While this funding will enable much-needed investments in housing for the homeless, the Legislature has failed to address the rising cost of rent or increase wages to combat these rising costs.

As a graduate student in public health, I understand the importance of examining how public health policies and outcomes intersect. Utah has claimed a spot in the top 8 of the U.S. health rankings since 1990. Due to inflation, skyrocketing rental prices in Utah, and a lack of political solutions in sight, the State health ranking could drop, with significant implications for our public health.

Lawmakers have prioritized a tax cut this legislative session, which fails to address the root cause of these problems. While having food on the table is essential, tax cuts ignore other contributing factors. When people are forced to choose between paying their monthly rent or paying additional essential living expenses, there are profound health implications. People are less likely to access preventative care, face adverse mental health effects, and be unable to manage existing chronic health conditions. Rising rent prices make paying for necessary medications, transportation to and from appointments, and copaying insurance extremely difficult for low-income households.

Housing is a social determinant of health and well-being, and it’s past time for the legislature to do better, take action, and implement policy solutions to protect the people of Utah. Rental prices in Salt Lake City County alone rose more than 10% last year. With one in three Utahns currently renting, lawmakers need to recognize the interwoven impacts iterated in this issue.

Ellisa Dockstader, Brighton, Mass.

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