Sen. Mike Lee: HOUSES Act reduces unnecessary barriers to homeownership in Utah

Our constituents elected us to solve problems, and the housing crisis demands our immediate attention.

A walk down any residential street in Salt Lake City, Provo or even St. George reveals the signs of a housing market under strain. “For Sale” signs disappear almost as quickly as they appear, with houses selling at prices that were unthinkable just a decade ago. Young couples, eager to start their lives and plant roots in the communities they love, find themselves priced out of the market. Long-time residents hoping to downsize or relocate discover that their options are limited. This housing predicament isn’t unique to Utah; it’s a story echoed across the American West and many parts of the country.

While many factors contribute to this crisis, there’s an elephant in the room that we can no longer ignore: the vast amounts of land owned by the federal government. In states like Utah, where the federal government owns more than two-thirds of the land, available space for housing development is drastically limited. This artificial scarcity drives up prices, making housing less affordable and less available for families who need it.

I’ve crafted legislation to tackle this growing problem, the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter, or the HOUSES Act. This legislation would open up parcels of federally-owned land for states or local government entities to purchase, thereby increasing the available land for housing. The goal is simple: By increasing the supply of building space, we can ease the pressures on housing demand, making homes more affordable for more Americans.

Recognizing the diverse needs and visions of different communities, this bill provides local governments with the flexibility to determine the best use of this land. Whether a locality needs low-income housing, condominiums, single-family homes or even mixed-use developments, they can tailor their approach to best suit their community’s needs.

For those concerned about preserving our nation’s natural treasures, rest assured that lands with special designations such as national monuments, wilderness areas or national recreation areas are off the table. The bill guards against development in remote and scenic areas. In order to meet the bill’s housing density requirement, only lands that are directly adjacent to existing sewer infrastructure could be developed. What’s more, we’ve implemented measures to prevent these areas from being used for luxury second homes, focusing our efforts on affordability.

The numbers paint a compelling picture. Utah, a state with almost 23 million acres of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has seen home prices surge by 89% in five years, between 2017 and 2022. If just a fraction — say, 1% of the BLM-managed acreage — was made available for housing under the HOUSES Act, up to 774,000 additional homes could be built. Think of the potential relief to families, the boost to our economy, and the revitalization of our communities.

In America, homeownership has long been a symbol of opportunity and individual effort. Our values emphasize hard work, resilience and the pursuit of one’s own American dream. Unfortunately for many Americans, despite their best efforts, the dream of homeownership is becoming increasingly distant due to external market pressures. The federal government can’t buy a home for every citizen, but we should ensure that unnecessary barriers, like limited land due to federal ownership, aren’t standing in their way.

Since affordable housing helps all Americans, I hope my colleagues in both parties will help pass the HOUSES Act. Our constituents elected us to solve problems, and the housing crisis demands our immediate attention. With the HOUSES Act, we have a real, actionable solution.

Home is where our stories begin and where we find solace at the end of each day. It’s in these spaces that we share laughs, shed tears and build memories. We are poised to rejuvenate that dream for countless individuals with the HOUSES Act. By addressing our housing crisis head-on, we’re not just building homes; we’re fortifying the very foundation of America.

Mike Lee

Mike Lee is the senior United States senator from Utah.

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