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Utah housing situation discussed at Summit

 The current condition of Utah’s construction and housing industry was a common topic at the Governor’s third annual Economic Summit held on March 30.

Executive Vice President and Economist for Wells Fargo Kelly Matthews said there was evidence that as consumer demand stabilized during the first two months of 2009 the housing demand began to improve. However, he cautioned that the economy was not completely repaired. Employment numbers will continue to decline, he forecasted.
“It will continue to be very ugly and very difficult,” Matthews said. “If product demand and the housing market stabilize, then the demand and production will meet some kind of consensus.”
Fortunately for the state of Utah, Matthews said the area had not been hit as hard by the housing slump as neighboring states.
“Nevada and Arizona dug a deeper housing hole than we had,” he said. “That is the reason we can come out of the downturn.”
The number of households in Utah continues to increase each year, Matthews said, suggesting that there is still a demand for new homes in the state.
“There are still 10,000 to 12,000 new households being created in Utah each year,” he said. “There is still a significant demand, and maybe demand that is not being met.”
Incentives from the federal and state government will help to improve the housing market, Matthews said.
Gov. Jon M. Hunstman supported this idea when he addressed attendees during the Summit. He suggested that there were “extraordinary things going on” to stimulate Utah’s economy. In particular, he pointed out the $6,000 Home Run Grant established by Huntsman and the Utah State Legislature and Utah Housing Corporation. The grant is for homebuyers purchasing new homes. Huntsman expressed hope that the grant would start moving people into the excess inventory.
But, Matthews cautioned, affordability is still an issue, although this too is changing.
Matthews said the low mortgage rates will help to increase affordability and will entice some people to purchase a home.
“Conditions are such that many people will decide it is time to buy a house,” Matthews said.
After Matthews laid a foundation of hope for residential construction, Doug Clark, former managing director of Business Growth at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, introduced “The Cranes are Still Working” panel that would talk to a crowded room about commercial construction going on throughout the state.
President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber Lane Beattie started the panel off by highlighting the construction occurring in Utah. He said $1.6 million was being spent on construction in Utah per day and that the cranes in Salt Lake — 14 in downtown — are a good sign that construction is alive in Utah.
“We think it is absolutely phenomenal,” Beattie said.
Steve Romney, a member of the City Creek Center redevelopment team, gave the audience a brief overview of the City Creek project, The redevelopment project is meant to revitalize downtown, strengthen the Main Street corridor, create underground parking, make Salt Lake more pedestrian friendly, enhance the office and retail space, bring more people to downtown and increase residential living, Romney said.
In addition to the City Creek Center, the panel introduced other construction projects, including the Falcon Hill development, 550 acres near Hill Air Force Base, and the expansion and relocation of the St. George Airport.
By Kelly Lux