Moab’s housing crises, in some ways, are not unique. Cities from San Francisco to New York have experienced skyrocketing housing prices and homelessness in recent years. Even the smallest state, Wyoming, has faced its own housing problems.

In other ways, Moab is unique, and by some measures, it is deeper in a pit than comparable cities in the West. In the last two decades, development of multifamily housing units has slowed in Moab relative to less affordable, single-family housing. In the rest of the state, multifamily units are being built faster than any other housing type.

Researchers at the University of Utah released an analysis in November 2020, summarized into four “key findings” regarding the path to housing affordability. One, there is no silver bullet; two, success is incremental; three, land-use regulations determine the success of any strategy; and four, success requires leadership and political will.

The “analysis in brief,” summarizing the 28-page paper, cited multi-family housing as a key example. Think condominiums, twin homes, townhomes and apartments.

“Recently, housing preferences have moved toward multifamily housing,” the authors wrote. “From 2000 to 2009, multifamily units accounted for only 27% of all new residential units in Utah, but from 2010 to 2019, the share of multifamily units increased to 44%, and in the last three years, it climbed to nearly 50%.”

For housing affordability advocates, that might sound like good news. Research into urban planning has shown that multifamily housing is more environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and affordable to people across the income scale compared to single-family housing.

However, there’s a catch: City and county regulations have prevented the development of this more affordable type of housing.

“Zoning ordinances, in many cities, do not reflect the shift in preferences to higher-density, more affordable housing,” the authors wrote. “Zoning often lags changes in market preferences.”

Grand County is no exception. In fact, it has bucked the trend of building “higher-density, more affordable housing,” according to building permit data.

From 2000 to 2009, multifamily units accounted for 33% of all new residential units in Grand County. From 2010 to 2017 (data is missing from 2018 and parts of 2019), multifamily units accounted for just 28% of new residential units. The data is from the University of Utah’s Ivory-Boyer Construction Database.