Panel proposes $5M for housing

By: 
Mary Steurer with the Casper Star-Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER —Urged to do something about the state’s lagging housing stock, a legislative committee voted Tuesday to set aside $5 million for a new infrastructure grant. 

 

The grant, which would be funded by Wyoming’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief money, is a kind of counter-offer to one of Gov. Mark Gordon’s December budget proposals. 

 

In a letter to the Joint Appropriations Committee, Gordon originally asked for $15 million in relief money for unmet housing needs. 

The plan, at the time, was to use the funds to create a grant for low- and middle-income housing projects. It would have been administered by the Wyoming Community Development Authority, a housing organization known for lending low-interest mortgages to first-time homebuyers. 

 

But the Joint Appropriations Committee nixed the idea, in part due to concerns about the program’s feasibility. 

 

Relief money has to be obligated by 2024 and spent by 2026, and the prospect of standing up a new program on those deadlines made lawmakers uneasy, Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, told the Star-Tribune earlier this month. 

 

Since then, some lawmakers and advocates have been working to get at least some money for housing into the ARPA budget. Two groups — the Wyoming Economic Development Association and a coalition of Wyoming residents working to address housing issues — sent letters to the committee asking it to reverse course.

 

During an Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Trey Sherwood, R-Laramie, brought an amendment creating the new infrastructure grant. 

 

Sherwood’s amendment looks a bit different from Gordon’s original recommendation. The $5 million could be used to fund things like water, sewer and utilities projects. 

 


 

But unlike the governor’s proposal, the money couldn’t be used for construction, land or administrative costs, Sherwood said in an email. 

But even with that comparatively limited scope, the grant is bound to receive plenty of applicants, said Betsey Hale, the Wyoming Economic Development Association’s secretary and legislative committee chair. 

 

In many cases, new infrastructure precludes new housing. 

 

For communities to sprawl, they have to drag utilities out to new land. And with materials costs going up, that’s getting more and more difficult for developers to afford. 

 

“It’s one of those costs that are really, really substantial in a housing development,” Hale said. “And so having the flexibility to use (the money) for infrastructure is actually very good.” 

 

The $5 million would go to the Office of State Lands and Investments’ existing local government grant program, which was originally given $50 million in relief dollars last year. That means the state wouldn’t have to roll out a new program to get the money out the door. 

The fact that the money would go toward community infrastructure — something everyone shares — may have also made the proposal more palatable this time around, Hale said. 

 

“It’s a great way for taxpayer dollars to stay in your community, to stay in the state of Wyoming, because the infrastructure never goes away,” she said. 

 

The Wyoming Economic Development Association is hoping the grant serves as a sort of pilot for future housing initiatives. 

“Where this ended up is a good solution to start the conversation and get some of these demonstration projects, hopefully moving so we can see what’s next,” said Sara DiRienzo, the group’s executive director. 

 

The proposal could be subject to further revisions as it makes its way through the state house. Once it leaves the Joint Appropriations Committee, it’s expected to head to the House of Representatives next. 

 

Should the amendment pass into law, it’d be Wyoming’s first time dedicating ARPA money to housing issues. 

 

There was a similar push last year. In budget recommendations ahead of the 2022 session, Gordon initially asked for $25 million in ARPA dollars for housing. 

 

But that idea, too, was axed by the Joint Appropriations Committee. 

 

As of Thursday, at least 31 states have allocated relief money for affordable housing needs, according to a survey by the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

 

This story was published on Jan. 21, 2023.

 

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