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Western governors seek more federal assistance for housing

Chris O'Meara

News brief: 

The Western Governors’ Association has made several policy recommendations to address the nation’s housing affordability crisis.

A majority of Americans spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And some of the fastest growing states include Idaho, Utah and Colorado, where vacancy rates have also declined. One study from Headwaters Economics found that 2,351 zip codes in the West saw typical home values rise by $50,000 or more between 2020 and 2021.

At last week’s association meeting, a federal housing official said the government will have a role in helping states address these trends. But he said a lot more needs to be done.

“Only a quarter of the people who are eligible for housing help in this country actually receive it,” Ethan Handelman of the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a panel discussion. “We are very far from meeting everyone's housing needs.”

Western governors want to increase the housing supply by removing red tape for federal financing programs and utilizing more public land for new construction. They also welcome modular or manufactured homes, especially in rural communities. And they call for better communication among local, state and federal housing authorities.

For many cities in our region, the most important change is to accept greater density in urban areas, Handelman said.

“[In] far too much of this country, the only thing you can build is single family homes on pretty large lots, which is pretty limiting,” he said. “It's also the way most of the folks in the West experience housing and have for decades.”

The governors told their staff to work with Congress and federal agencies to pass some of these policy recommendations.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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