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Lawmakers to consider bill establishing a state housing trust fund

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A neighborhood on the east side of Casper is pictured in May 2018. 

Advocates worried the state may not be ready, or willing, to invest in housing solutions would after a legislative committee in September abandoned plans to draft a housing trust fund bill.

Now, a group of lawmakers is giving it another shot.

House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, would create a standing pot of money for addressing housing needs across the state.

As currently written, the bill would seed the housing trust fund with $15 million from the state’s general fund.

Supporters say a housing trust fund would make sure the state always has money to funnel toward housing programs and projects. Wyoming’s just one of three states without one.

Other state governments have used the money for everything from affordable housing developments, to home restoration projects, to rental assistance, to homelessness prevention, to providing emergency shelter in wake of natural disasters.

The bill would also give the state treasurer the ability to invest money from the housing trust fund, so long as earnings made from those investments went back into the pool.

Video courtesy Wyoming Legislature

Establishing a housing trust fund was one of several proposals the Joint Corporations Committee looked at last year to address the state’s workforce housing crunch.

And while there seemed to be support for a housing trust fund from local leaders, housing advocates and industry representatives, lawmakers at the time expressed confusion about how the fund would work — and what agency or agencies would oversee the money.

House Bill 132 doesn’t seek to answer those questions. They’d be sorted out at a later time, Zwonitzer said.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get it in statute,” he said.

If adopted, the bill would require the Joint Appropriations Committee to study how to set up the housing trust fund during the 2023 interim.

That would include recommending a long-term source for funding, Zwonitzer said.

Any specific proposals the committee comes up with would go before lawmakers during the 2024 legislative session, the bill says.

Some nonprofit housing developers have been rallying for Wyoming to adopt a housing trust fund model like Iowa’s.

Iowa’s program currently gets $3 million from a state infrastructure fund and up to $7 million from real estate transfer taxes annually.

It funnels the majority of that money into 27 local housing trust funds. Generally speaking, those local housing trust funds get a lot of flexibility in how they use the money, so long as they comply with certain state guidelines.

“Those communities get to decide where that funding goes for their own unique situations that they’re facing,” Dan Dorsch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County, told the Star-Tribune last year.

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