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Utah News

Controversial Senate housing bill receives support from Utah Public Lands Office

An orange rock mound surrounded by vegetation, with sagebrush steppe and a large mountain in the background
BLM
/
US Bureau of Land Management
Sand Cove, a primitive camping site, is located approximately 20 miles from St. George, Utah.

As our state population grows and housing prices soar, Utah legislators are looking to improve housing affordability by opening BLM lands to development.

Jake Garfield, a deputy director of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, offered support for bill S.4062, also referred to as the HOUSES Act, during the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee meeting last Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Utah Senator Mike Lee, looks to open Utah public lands to development, in the face of housing shortages and rising housing prices across the state.

“Utah is facing a severe housing shortage and housing affordability crisis, but the situation in Utah is particularly challenging due to the lack of available private land. Approximately 63% of Utah's land area is owned by the federal government and is thus off limits to any residential development,” Garfield said.

According to Garfield, lack of undeveloped private land is a key driver of climbing housing prices as Utah’s population continues to grow, and that opening federal land to development is a simple solution.

“If even a tiny fraction of the 22.8 million acres that the BLM manages in Utah were made available for affordable housing, it could significantly increase Utah’s housing stock, without negatively impacting public land races, or recreational access,” Garfield explained.

Rural and southern Utah communities are a primary target for the HOUSES Act.

“There are many communities surrounded by BLM lands that would benefit from some BLM lands being made available,” Garfield said. “From the booming St. George and Cedar City metro areas to rural communities throughout southern central and eastern Utah, which lack available private land and have seen tremendous increases in home values.”

Critics, including hunting and conservation groups, worry the bill ignores other significant drivers of the housing crisis, and will shrink hunting and recreation opportunities.

More about the bill at https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/4062/