Bridging the Housing Gap in the West

October 24, 2023

 The Vision of Sen. Mike Lee's HOUSES Act

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) reintroduced the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter or HOUSES Act legislation aimed at alleviating housing constraints experienced across the West. This initiative targets federal lands to bolster local efforts to combat rising housing costs and increase available housing stock.


Over the last few years, housing prices in Utah have dramatically increased, with average home prices skyrocketing since 2015. A significant contributor to this scarcity is the federal ownership of vast tracts of land. The federal government controls over two-thirds of the land in Utah, limiting the available space for residential development and driving up costs for the limited amount of available, developable land. Coupled with historic inflation, rising housing prices make life less affordable for Western families.


The HOUSES Act aims to rectify this by:

  • Offering small parcels of federal land for purchase to states or local government entities at a PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) ratioed price.
  • Ensuring that these lands are primarily used for housing purposes with a mandate of at least 85% of the land being dedicated for residential purposes and the community's related needs.
  • Establishing density requirements, ensuring a minimum of four homes per acre.
  • Prohibiting the development of luxury second homes on these parcels, thereby focusing on affordability.
  • Protecting certain areas, the act explicitly excludes lands with special designations, such as national monuments, wilderness areas, or national recreation areas, from being nominated.

Co-sponsors of this bill include Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). The bill is endorsed by the National Association of Counties (NACO).


"The unprecedented challenges we face in housing affordability and availability need innovative solutions. With the HOUSES Act, we can leverage federally owned land to significantly address these challenges, especially in states like Utah where federal land ownership is extensive," said Sen. Lee. "Utah's heart and soul lie in its communities and families. The HOUSES Act recognizes every Utahn, and every American, deserves a place to call home."


Of the bill, Sen. Barrasso said, “Housing affordability is a nationwide problem. Rent is high and mortgages are even higher thanks to Bidenomics. 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.”

Of the bill, President & CEO of Salt Lake Chamber, Derek Miller said, "Senator Lee's proactive approach to addressing Utah's affordable housing crisis at the federal level is commendable. As housing affordability is a top policy issue for the Salt Lake Chamber, we applaud his relentless efforts to find effective solutions and strategies that will make homeownership a reality for more Utahns. This commitment to Utah's well-being is a testament to his dedication and leadership."


Of the bill, Executive Director of the Vernal Area Chamber, David O’Riordan said, “Communities across the country, especially in the West, are grappling with significant housing affordability and availability challenges. The current shortage of homes has led to soaring housing prices, impacting many families. Senator Lee's proposal to increase the available area for housing development is a crucial step in addressing this issue. By allowing communities to have more flexibility in addressing their unique housing needs, this legislation can make a substantial positive impact.”


Of the bill, President & CEO of the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce, Christopher M. McCormick said, "The Cedar City Chamber of Commerce stands in support of the HOUSES Act and urges our legislators to implement this as expeditiously as possible. This is not only a good plan for Utah, but the nation as a whole, as this is becoming a nationwide problem."


Of the bill, President & CEO of Point of the Mountain Chamber, Mark Welcker said, "The dream of owning a home in Utah County is on the verge of becoming unattainable for many of Utah Counties would-be homeowners. With current growth trends, it is anticipated that Utah County will add 1 million additional residents over the next several decades putting Utah County on par with Salt Lake County. Unless we take immediate action, the lack of inventory and skyrocketing home prices will crush the hopes and dreams of many Utahns who want to live in Utah County and along the Wasatch Front. Senator Mike Lee’s HOUSES Act will certainly help to create a pathway for home ownership. "


Of the bill, Washington City Mayor and City Council said, “The median home price in Washington County hit $520,000 in September of 2023. Housing is quickly becoming unaffordable and unattainable for many of our residents. We need to find solutions that will allow the middle class to thrive in Washington City. We appreciate Senator Lee bringing forward the HOUSES Act, a bill that will give municipalities another avenue through which they can increase the supply of more affordable housing. We support this concept as one way to alleviate pressure on the housing market. We look forward to working with partners in the private sector and at all levels of government to address our critical housing needs.”


Of the bill, Mayor of Leeds, UtahBill Hoster said, “Senator Lee's bill demonstrates a deep understanding of the multifaceted nature of our housing crisis, o?ering a comprehensive solution that embraces the variety of needs across di?erent communities. By increasing the available area for housing development of all kinds – from low-income housing and apartments to condominiums and single-family homes – this bill paves the way for a future where everyone can find a place to safely and a?ordably call home.”


Of the bill, Utah County Commissioner Brandon Gordon said, “The HOUSES Act helps us to prepare and plan for growth, It’s happening, we must plan, mitigate the bad effects and ensure we use the benefits to make a stronger Utah County.

For bill text, click HERE
For a one-pager, click HERE