The Housing Dilemma

For reasons of occupational necessity (jobs for lyric soprano opera directors/voice professors are rare), my wife and I moved to Cedar City in late 1993. At the time Cedar City had a population of a little under 14,000 people, while Iron County’s total population was 22,000. Today, Iron County’s population is 66,000 people, of whom 42,000 live in Cedar City, with an additional 9,000 people living in adjoining Enoch (which wasn’t even incorporated until 1996, and only had 2,000 people in 1993). In addition, the university, which had 3,500 students in 1993, now has an enrollment of 16,000.

When we arrived in 1993, we could see every house for sale in less than a day, and the pickings were slim. Every house we looked at was comparatively modest, and almost all the houses on the market were priced at less than $200,000. There were very few large houses, and fewer even on the market. We settled on the best existing house among those few we could afford… and then spent 20 years improving and adding to it.

Today, the average house for sale in Cedar City costs $400,000, up from roughly $114,000 in 1993. While $400,000 for a house sounds like a bargain to people from Colorado, California, and Las Vegas, and the lower cost draws retirees and others to build their “dream house,” all too many houses and even apartments are out of reach for most local young families, because Iron County has among the lowest average income of any county in Utah, roughly $36,000. And now, for the first time ever, we have a measurable population of the the homeless.

Yet now, we also have at least three “gated” communities with houses over a million dollars. Developers are building everywhere. The area around the university is filled with apartment complexes newly built for students, primarily because the university has only built two new student dorms over the past decade. And the formerly empty hills west and northeast of town are filled with mansions and mcmansions, largely occupied by immigrant retirees, while the flatlands that once held sheep and ranch and farm land hold newly-built cookie-cutter “average” houses that get inundated with every, if occasional, flash flood.

Cedar City has been discovered, but that discovery has been a mixed “blessing.”

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