By Julie Johansen
The Emery County Business Chamber Housing Committee met on Monday at the Castle Dale City administration building. The guest for this meeting was Joel Brown from Senator Mike Lee’s office. Brown is the Southeastern Utah Director for Senator Lee. He welcomed the group virtually before introducing Sam Croft, Senator Lee’s legislative assistant.
Croft introduced the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter Act (HOUSES Act) that Sen. Lee is sponsoring. It is an initiative to use federal lands to bolster local efforts to combat rising costs and increase available housing. Sen. Lee’s statement is that since two-thirds of the land in Utah is owned by the federal government, this limits space for residential development, which presents a unique challenge in the western United States.
This initiative would offer small parcels of Bureau of Land Management land for purchase to states or local government entities at a PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) ratioed price. This would make the prices basically pennies on the dollar. These lands would be used primarily for housing purposes with at least 85% used for residential and community needs.
If cities purchased the land, it would have to adjacent to city limits for annexation and infrastructure. The legislation would establish density requirements to a minimum of four homes per acre. It would also prohibit luxury second homes, focusing instead on affordability.
These parcels of land designated for purchase would exclude lands with special designation, such as national monuments or wilderness areas. The parcel would have to be under 640 acres, used mainly for housing, but the surplus could be used for essential amenities. This act has been introduced to the Senate, but no action has been taken.
Following the screen presentation, the group discussed the essentials of the housing crisis in Emery County, realizing that the main problem is and has been financing for affordable housing.
The committee will meet again in February with a focus on financing.