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Senators Romney, Lee Introduce Bill to Increase Utah Housing Supply

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John Barrasso (R-WY) in introducing the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter or HOUSES Act today to help units of local government address housing supply and affordability in their jurisdictions. The federal government owns more than two-thirds of the land in Utah. Utah is also among the states with the most competitive housing markets and limited housing supply. That constrained supply led home prices in the state to increase by 24.5% from 2020 to 2021. Coupled with historic inflation, the rising prices of housing is making life less affordable for western families.

The HOUSES Act helps solve Utah’s land and housing scarcity by allowing parcels of federal land to be purchased by a state or unit of local government at a reduced price giving them flexibility to address housing constraints. The act requires that land be used for housing, subject to a density requirement, and protects against development of expensive second homes on the purchased parcels.

“As our state has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, housing prices have skyrocketed and housing affordability has become a growing challenge for communities across our state—a challenge which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. We must make finding and affording houses more accessible for everyone. However, with two-thirds of our state owned by the federal government, the ability of many communities to expand is prohibited by federal ownership. By increasing the amount of federal land that can be used for housing development—ranging from single family homes to low-income housing and apartments—our legislation will start to address our state’s housing shortages,Senator Romney said.

Supply is not meeting housing demand in Utah, and the federal government’s land ownership is a significant cause of our restricted housing stock. The HOUSES Act will free federal land in a responsible manner to keep the dream and promise of Utah alive. This bill will help ensure Utah remains a place where families and communities can thrive, grow, and prosper,Senator Lee said.

Wyoming and the West are blessed with tremendous resources, including vast expanses of land. As more and more people move to places like Wyoming, the growing communities need options to expand housing for residents. The HOUSES Act will give many new options to state and local governments by allowing them to buy certain lands from the federal government for residential purposes. This has already been happening in Nevada.  It makes sense for other public lands states to have the same opportunities,Senator Barrasso said.

Utah County Commissioner, Amelia Powers Gardner said, “Utah County is facing a critical affordable housing shortage that is going to require creative and innovative solutions to solve. Senator Mike Lee’s HOUSES Act is one solution that could actually move the needle in helping to ensure more affordable housing in Utah County. Senator Lee’s HOUSES Act is one example of creative and innovative solutions for tackling our affordable housing shortage in Utah County. The HOUSES Act would give local government one more tool that could help combat the lack of affordable housing in Utah County.

President and CEO of the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce, Christopher M. McCormick said, “The HOUSES Act would have a significant impact on the affordable housing crisis[.] … The Cedar City Chamber of Commerce stands in support of the HOUSES Act and urges our legislators to implement this as expeditiously as possible.  This is not only a good plan for Utah, but the nation as a whole, as this is becoming a nationwide problem.

Washington City Councilman, Kurt Ivie said of the bill, “The median home price in Washington County hit $553,000 in February of 2022. Housing is quickly becoming unaffordable and unattainable for many of our residents. We need to find solutions that will allow the middle class to thrive in Washington City. I appreciate Senator Lee including me in this critical discussion and for bringing forward the HOUSES Act, a bill that will give municipalities another avenue through which they can increase the supply of more affordable housing. I support this concept as one way to alleviate pressure on the housing market. I look forward to working with Senator Lee and the communities across Utah to build support for this bill. This is a great issue backed by an absolute need and Senator Lee’s bill is good policy.

Vernal Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee Chairman, Steve Evans said, “Like the rest of the State of Utah, Uintah County has a severe shortage of affordable housing.  Much of the area in Uintah County is under BLM jurisdiction and many of these large tracts of land are not usable for recreation or other public uses.  If this act is passed, it would allow counties like Uintah County to provide opportunities for affordable housing to be built.  We very much support Senator Lee’s efforts to pass the HOUSES Act.

The National Association of Counties also supports the bill.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

The full text of the bill can be read here.