Bill to Use Federal Land for Affordable Housing: HOUSES Act of 2022

This isn’t about employees, but is of interest.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis has co-sponsored legislation that would allow federal land to be used for public housing.

The Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter Act (HOUSES) would open up parcels of federally owned land for states or local governments to buy for the purpose of increasing the availability of housing.

“The purpose of the bill is to make state and local governments able to buy local land for home development,” Lummis told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday afternoon.

The legislation would amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and also proposes that state or local entities would be allowed to buy federal public land at a discounted rate “well below market value,” ratioed by a Payment in Lieu of Taxes price.

The HOUSES Act was first introduced in 2022 and was recently reintroduced by Lummis, bill sponsor Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. Lack of affordable housing has become not only an issue in Wyoming in recent years, but also throughout the entire West.

“Housing affordability is a nationwide problem. Rent is high and mortgages are even higher thanks to Bidenomics,” Barrasso said in a statement. “The HOUSES Act will provide new options to state and local governments by allowing them to buy certain lands from the federal government for residential purposes. As more people move to Wyoming, growing communities need options to expand housing.”

What It Does?
Lummis said the legislation could have a particular benefit for a number of Wyoming communities like Jackson, Sheridan and Cody that border federal land, which makes up nearly 50% of Wyoming’s total acreage.

“Affordable housing is becoming less and less capable in Wyoming,” she said.

The Joint Economic Committee of Congress estimates the bill would lead to the construction of 2.7 million more homes in the U.S. and alleviate Wyoming’s entire housing shortage.

Under the bill, development would be limited to federal lands directly adjacent to where existing sewer infrastructure could be developed and would also exclude particularly sensitive tracts of land such as wilderness areas and national monuments. This would leave out most federal land aside from BLM and Bureau of Reclamation property.

I don’t think that’s true.. it sounds like FS would be included.

It would ensure that lands are primarily used for housing with a mandate that at least 85% be dedicated for residential purposes and the community’s related needs. It also includes density requirements, ensuring a minimum of four homes per acre and prohibits the development of luxury second homes on these parcels.

“It allows the carve-out of small parcels and is especially for the purpose of adding affordable housing,” Lummis said.

A local entity would be allowed to use the land for low-income housing, condominiums, single-family homes or even mixed-use developments.

The local government would submit requests for conveyance to the Secretary of the Interior, who would then need to approve the sale along with a state’s governor.

Not Just Houses …
According to the bill text, construction of community amenities like assembly halls, firefighting facilities, grocery stores, health clinics, hospitals, libraries, churches, police stations, recreational facilities and schools would also be allowed.

It would also require the construction of water, sewer, electricity, communications infrastructure and some connection to public transit.

Creating industrial areas would also be allowed if they include “manufacturing, assembling, processing, extracting or otherwise treating raw materials.”

The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act already allows for the exchange of specific, low-value, isolated parcels of public land where it is necessary, seen most prominently on the far edge of Las Vegas.

“Instead of doing these on a case-by-case basis, this will establish an act of Congress to allow it,” Lummis said.

Some conservatives have criticized proposals like these as the government meddling in the private market. Lummis doesn’t buy that argument because the land being discussed isn’t available to the private market anyway.

“The private market is already cut out now because it’s federal land,” she said.

Lummis added that she finds it nearly impossible these days for the private sector to make money off building affordable housing.

The HOUSES Act also has been derided by a handful of environmental groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as anti-public lands.

“The availability and affordability of housing is a real concern that impacts everyday Americans; however, the HOUSES Act does not present a meaningful attempt to solve this issue,” the group said in a Monday press release. “Rather, it would facilitate the removal of multiple-use lands from the public estate.”

I have some questions..probably someone has been following this..

  1. Why Nevada and nowhere else?
  2. To environmental groups, is this more OK if done piece by piece, or not acceptable at all?
  3.  Does the land have to be transferred, or could it be traded or leased?

17 thoughts on “Bill to Use Federal Land for Affordable Housing: HOUSES Act of 2022”

  1. The land removed from multiple use would be miniscule. Running a hard surface road a mile out the back of any development with parking at the end would open up thousands of times more land for multiple use than is taken away.

    More people and more houses in areas I live or recreate in is a small price to pay for housing for everyone else.

    • Som,- plus lots of land is currently being removed from “multiple use” via different “protection” regulations. Multiple use seems like an odd hill for Backcountry H&A to stand on.

        • How in hell are LSRs, HCPs, and other passively managed tracts of forest in any way “entirely consistent with multiple use?” Or are we just going to redefine “multiple use” the same way we did with “conservation?”

          • We’ve let the courts explain that, for example, roadless area protection:,27

            “As with the Organic Act, the provisions of MUSYA give the Forest Service broad discretion to regulate NFS lands for a wide variety of purposes. See Perkins v. Bergland, 608 F.2d 803, 806-07 (9th Cir.1979) (The language found in 16 U.S.C. §§ 528, 529, and 531 “can hardly be considered concrete limits upon agency discretion. Rather, it is language which `breathe(s) discretion at every pore.'” (quoting Strickland v. Morton, 519 F.2d 467, 469 (9th Cir.1975))); see also United States v. New Mexico, 438 U.S. 696, 713, 98 S.Ct. 3012, 57 L.Ed.2d 1052 (1978) (“[W]e conclude that the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 was intended to broaden the purposes for which national forests had previously been administered….”). Under MUSYA’s statutory scheme, which supplemented the broad authority granted in the Organic Act, Congress clearly authorized the Forest Service to regulate NFS lands for multiple uses, including those protected by the Roadless Rule, such as “outdoor recreation,” “watershed,” and “wildlife and fish purposes.” 16 U.S.C. § 528. We therefore conclude that the Forest Service had the authority — under the Organic Act and MUSYA — to promulgate a rule protecting NFS lands through restrictions on commercial logging and road construction.[20]”

  2. Nice idea (and addresses a huge need now for affordable housing), but I fear that this proposal is fraught with hidden consequences. The cynic in me tells me this is just another attempt at a Sagebrush Revellion movement.

  3. Here’s a summary of FLTFA:

    And here’s the current version of it – Congress permanently reauthorized it in 2018:

    As you’ll see from the summary, FLTFA transactions are tied to the relevant land management plan, and the primary purpose of the law is to rationalize the federal land base through land exchanges or sales and subsequent purchases. Vegas had been the focus of the law because the most commercially valuable BLM land is near Vegas. The law restricts the use of funds raised from sales: most of them must be spent in the state in which they were raised.

    The HOUSES bill would amend FLPMA rather than FLTFA, and thus allow below market federal land sales without any requirement to use the funds to acquire inholdings or other target parcels prioritized in FLTFA. The current bill is linked in here:

    So the bottom line is that FLTFA seeks to broadly maintain the overall size of the current federal land base while the HOUSES bill would probably shrink it (albeit initially by a fairly small amount). Which approach is preferable probably depends on one’s political preference. It may be worth noting that the FLTFA reauthorization was bipartisan, while I have yet to see any D cosponsor any of the HOUSES bills.

    • Thanks for this, Rich! I wonder the same thing as about any policy change, by legislature or executive branch.. what doesn’t work currently (example) which this law/proposed rule is needed to fix. I wish there was a “why current approaches don’t work” with specifics required for each bill or policy proposal.. otherwise we really can’t engage in deeper discussions and folks can revert to thinking the worst about the proponents’ ulterior motives. Instead of the discussions that we need to have to develop the best proposals. Simple tweak…

      • This would certainly make legislative history research easier! Sometimes explanations like this will appear in documents like committee reports, but at the bill introduction stage such explanations are fairly rare. Sometimes a sponsor will include a statement in the Congressional Record when introducing a bill, but this is by no means a universal practice.

        The other trick is that sometimes a similar bill we be introduced several congresses in a row, so it may be necessary to go back to the first instance to see if there is a statement on introduction.

        NEPA requires agencies to “include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation” an EIS (42 USC 4332(2)(C)), but this requirement- which as far as I know is essentially moribund – in any case does not apply to Congress.

  4. The cost of housing includes the cost of land, materials, roads, etc.
    If this is federal land that a local entity can purchase (pretty sure the article says the land would be purchased) then how will that entity price the land it buys from the feds?
    Will it be sold to a developer or individual at below market value? If not, how does this policy change make the housing built on what had been federal land any more affordable than a new home built on private land?

  5. On the why NV question, 63% of NV is managed by BLM. In the late 1990’s a Clark County, NV specific bill was passed in 1998 to ease the sale of public land to rapidly growing municipalities in Las Vegas area – Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. It worked well, so in 2000 Congress passed the above-described by Rich Federal Lands Transfer Facilitation Act to allow all 4 federal land management agencies to similarly dispose of federal land under certain restrictions. BLM under FLPMA is the only one with actual sale authority. BLM RMPs have to identify lands for disposal, use of the revenue is restricted, etc. Rich is correct most of the FLTFA action has been in NV. This was a Bush administration effort that I worked on and I can say it was a challenge to get enacted. I will note that in 2023 the state of CO was discussing using state land for affordable housing and the USFS, White River Forest, entered into a lease for affordable housing. The article reference Senator Bennet (D-CO) and Daines (R-MT) as working on a bill to foster these types of arrangements.
    Living in Cody, WY with 4 federal agencies (NPS, USFS, BLM and BOR) surrounding the town the community and federal employees all struggle with housing affordability and availability. Using suitable adjacent land for affordable housing is an issue worth addressing.

  6. If FS land can be found that is:
    – NOT fuel rich,
    – NOT WUI,
    – NOT valuable habitat,
    – Close to services, including public transit,
    – NOT a precedent for widespread development,
    … maybe it could work.

    • Curious, why not WUI? Why couldn’t fuels be removed? Many rural communities don’t have public transit and employees have cars (which they currently may be sleeping in) so why would you think that should be required?

      Seems like clearing areas for RVs for employees would help build fuel breaks (get twice the bang for the buck). Please explain your point of view.

  7. WUI came to mind first for me, too. I would say that any areas selected should not put more people in harm’s way. I’m also not generally supportive of expanding the WUI (and all the management bias it entails) by moving its borders farther out (since those borders are based on where development is). I would definitely like to see a prior plan-level determination of suitability/priority for disposal that would consider factors like those mentioned by 2nd.

    • Thanks for mentioning “borders” when discussing federal WUI zoning. More busy work for our federal “foresters” and their costly video games. Why aren’t signs posted along these borders so us taxpayers can be extra cautious when entering these so-called “wildlands?”

  8. One thing that strikes me as borderline duplicitous about the proposed sale of public (BLM) land for additional house building is that there is already a significant block of state land in the state that could be used for the same thing. Where is a proposal to convert state-owned lands to a housing option? This is just more federal land grabbing. There have been numerous attempts at grabbing federal land in our (Cody) area over the years, and this is just another. Open space and unobligated lands are precious and convey major benefits, even if they are quite subtle. If the eastern states of the U.S. had to do it all over again, I guarantee you they would leave a lot more land in the public domain rather than privatizing the majority.
    The other thing you might want to look at and ponder is Section 12 of the Act of Admission of the state of Wyoming to the Union. It specifies that other than the federal government land formally given to the state by the federal government for certain intended purposes, no more land can be transferred to the state. That was a condition of entering the Union in 1890.

  9. Here’s another approach, though it sounds like they kind of just fell into this opportunity to develop housing next to an administrative building.

    “The Ketchum Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest announced last week that it is inviting public comment on a proposal to lease the site of its administrative building in Ketchum’s light-industrial district for up to 80 units of workforce housing… The project, District Ranger Zach Poff said, was inspired in part by a lack of housing many employers in the Wood River Valley have experienced… Ketchum Lookout Partners LLC was chosen to enter into lease negotiations for management of the property moving forward. The Ranger District will maintain an office at the site even if a large housing project is established there, too, the Forest Service stated. The land was first acquired by the district in a land swap with Ketchum in 1992.”


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