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?

More on RVs and Potential Housing for Federal Workers: Colorado Sun Story

Kristin McGrath and Collin Vlass have been living in their 2015 Outback Keystone travel trailer for over two years with their dogs, Ola and Clyde. McGrath has had to move frequently to do clinical work for her degree in nurse anesthesia through Westminster University in Salt Lake City. The couple has lived in New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado and will soon move to Las Cruces in New Mexico. Vlass is a firefighter and wildfire paramedic. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)



Kelly’s and Rebecca’s comments on housing reminded me of this article from the Colorado Sun.  Apologies if I have already posted, my list of items to post is long and my memory is not perfect (nor is the search engine on TSW).   I think there’s definitely something there, especially compared to the difficulties and long-term nature of building permanent housing. Or reducing the cost of housing more generally (requires, I don’t know, messing with the economy?) so definitely above our pay grade.

Kristin McGrath and Collin Vlass have gathered plenty of first-hand information about trying to live in an RV while working in Colorado.

McGrath is a nurse anesthetist student and Vlass fights wildland fires.

Last year, McGrath learned she would have to move five times to do clinical work for her degree. She and Vlass have two dogs and own a house in Durango, “and seeing housing prices go crazy, rent gouging and having the dogs, we knew it was going to be astronomically expensive to find housing anywhere for a couple of months,” she said.

So they bought a used RV thinking they’d live in RV parks while they worked. But that plan would turn out to be more difficult than they thought.

In Manitou Springs’ Pikes Peak RV Park, where they currently reside, the two pay $1,300 a month for a concrete parking slab, water, power, sewer and the use of amenities — coin-operated laundry, bathrooms with showers and access to the Manitou Pool & Fitness Center. It’s the most expensive park they’ve lived on their journey, McGrath said, and “it seems as though they’ve seen the demand and are cramming as many RVs in there as possible.”

The crowding issue sometimes creates problems with renters not knowing which hookup pedestal to use, and McGrath said on the couple of instances when other campers unplugged them from electricity and turned off their water, the managers on site told them “it didn’t happen.”

When you mix vacationers with long-term renters, “they rarely have situational awareness,” Vlass added. “It’s bad because Kristin is pregnant and has to get up at 4, 5, 6 a.m. to go to school. I’m sorry, but even if it’s like nine people who came from three different spots in Colorado and chose Manitou for their reunion, even though we’re paying a pretty premium cost, there’s no separation between us and them.”

At least the two have been able to live in RV parks while traveling for work, something not everyone can manage due to aesthetics.

Many Colorado parks have restrictions around who can and cannot stay. A big one: If your RV is 10 or more years old, forget it, because they’re often rejected for being too worn or weathered, out of a concern they’ll ruin a park’s image.


But for the Coloradoans living in wheeled homes out of necessity, very little assistance has been available.

Jonathan Damon, a ski coach who lived in Colorado for a time, characterized long-term RV camping here as “a nightmare” and “impossible,” because “there are too many wealthy people who don’t want to see affordable living near their backyard.”

A situation last year in Grand County highlighted another challenge nonrecreational RV campers face, when a couple renting a site from Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountains resort, in Granby, was forced to leave after miscalculating the price of their site.

After renting at Sun Outdoors for a short time, camper Aaron Keil realized he couldn’t afford the $2,500-per-month rate. With no other place to legally park his RV, he moved onto Bureau of Land Management land outside of Kremmling. He planned to move campsites every two weeks, to stay in compliance with BLM policy, according to reporting in the Sky-Hi News. But he didn’t see the part of the policy that states each move must be 30 miles — as the crow flies — from the last site.

Steven Hall, Colorado communications manager for the BLM, said it’s difficult to get an accurate number of people using BLM lands for “residential use,” but “it’s an ongoing challenge for us with law enforcement and recreation staff in field offices like Kremmling.”

Hall said two of the most popular places for this kind of camping are the outskirts of Grand Junction and Cañon City, and that when BLM finds someone who has violated the two-week restriction, they’ll contact the person, let them know they’re in violation and help them find another campsite “where they would be in compliance.”

If a camper ignores the warnings long enough, agency law enforcement will “take action, including escorting them off the land and seizing what they’ve left behind,” Hall said. Cleanup can be a big job, because sometimes what’s left behind is the RV.

“BLM is trying to preserve the natural environment, which is hard to do if you have someone living there. People get concerned about ongoing hygiene issues and the watershed. But I worry less about people not using BLM land to help solve the housing crisis and more about the unused land that gets snapped up by market-rate developers,” said Curtis, from the safe parking organization. “We can’t build housing without land, and if you’re an affordable housing provider, you’ve got to have a wing and a prayer to get access to usable land that’s decent, near transit and a grocery store — all things we need to have.

And yet, some people (including, but not limited to, federal employees) who need space have cars.. so don’t need to be “near transit and a grocery store.”  So there’s that. It seems like such places could be limited to preferentially feds and then if space is available to other public employees.  It seems like it might be worthy of piloting such an approach at least.